Those attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, should have little doubt that President Donald Trump has completely taken over the conservative movement, and by extension the Republican Party.
Just two years earlier, Trump pulled out of CPAC at the last minute, opting to campaign in Florida and Kansas instead. Social conservatives then had their doubts based on Trump’s past support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage; free-market conservatives didn’t like his protectionist talk; and fiscal conservatives doubted his commitment to small government. Tea Party members were threatening to walk out on his speech. In the 2016 CPAC straw poll, Trump polled third with only 15 percent of the vote, behind Ted Cruz with 40 percent and Marco Rubio with 30 percent.
What a difference a few years make. This year’s CPAC straw poll showed 93 percent of attendees approving of his job performance in the White House. With the exception of Ted Cruz, none of the other 2016 presidential contenders bothered to show up at this year’s confab, held Feb. 22 to 24 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
Early on Friday, Feb. 23, the president delivered a 75-minute “greatest hits” speech, which resembled something one might hear at a campaign rally. It was notable not just for its length but for wildly veering off-script.
The speaker lineup for CPAC 2018 was packed with associates of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and several members of the Cabinet. Even White House lawyer Don McGhan made a rare public appearance.
The National Rifle Association once again had a strong presence at CPAC. NRA spokespersons Dana Loesch and Wayne LaPierre strongly defended the Second Amendment on gun ownership, just one week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 17 students and teachers. President Trump appeared to differ from their positions, speaking favorably of raising the age for rifle ownership and banning bump stocks, while endorsing the controversial idea of arming teachers in the classroom.
View Jeff Malet’s photos from CPAC 2018 by clicking on the photo icons below.