OXON HILL, Maryland — President Donald Trump assured attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that he will cleave to the conservative positions that put him in the Oval Office.
“One by one, we’re checking off the promises we’ve made,” Trump told the crowd in the National Harbor conference center in a speech that was frequently interrupted by standing ovations.
Trump also added a twist to a statement borrowed from former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address, when he said, “The era of big government is over.”
Trump proclaimed, “The era of empty talk is over.”
Organizers of the annual gathering of conservatives said the president is uniting the right.
‘HE’S FIGHTING FOR YOU’
“I’m learning how good it feels to have somebody leading our country who knows how to fight and he’s fighting for you,” Matt Schlapp of the conference sponsor American Conservative Union said in his introduction.
A year ago the mood at CPAC was not so laudatory. Trump finished third in CPAC’s straw poll, with 15 percent of support compared to 40 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and 30 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, after backing out of a scheduled speech at the last minute in the face of a threatened walkout during his talk.
“We already have 300 people who are going to get up at one time and go to the bathroom,” William Temple of Georgia, the activist clad in Revolutionary War garb who threatened to lead the walkout, boasted to National Review at the time.
On Friday morning, however, Temple gave an enthusiastic endorsement of Trump’s speech. “I loved it,” Temple said, because the president “reiterated he is going to honor his promises.”
“He is a man of his word, on everything he promised to the people,” Jacqueline Banks agreed, adding that she was one of few African-Americans from East Orange, New Jersey, to vote for Trump.
Trump’s warm reception by his conservative base highlights the deep political polarization surrounding his young presidency. Trump has been in office for some five weeks, and already a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 58 percent of Democrats want him impeached.
Cruz alluded to the anger in the opposition party during a Thursday panel, saying he believes Democratic politicians are “more afraid of their base than they are of voters.”
Having won big in November, Republicans at CPAC seem more in the mood to fight than work across the aisle. Actor Robert Davi gave voice to that mood when he told a gaggle of reporters, “Politics is war.”
The right has to hold the left accountable, he said, adding “The only one who’s ever done that is Trump.”
ATTACKING ‘DISHONEST MEDIA’
Trump’s speech focused more on “the dishonest media” than leading Democrats.
When the audience was on its feet applauding, Trump told his fans to sit down so that the “dishonest media” could report that “Donald Trump did not get a standing ovation.”
”They leave out the part (that) they never sat down,” he said.
TV crews turn their cameras on the president’s enthusiastic crowds, but Trump seems to enjoy pretending they do not and his fans eat up the schtick.
“There’s definitely a method to his madness,” Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said after watching Friday’s speech. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer don’t offer enough to attack, so Trump and Bannon have targeted journalists. Maslin said,“He’s picking a fight with the best target they’ve got.”
Democratic leaders don’t really matter in the fight he believes the Trump team has chosen, Maslin concluded. “This is the tactic they have chosen and it’s worrisome to me,” he said.
In his remarks, Trump criticized “fake news” stories and the use of unnamed sources. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” Trump said.
Later Friday, the White House stirred conflict by excluding the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN and other news organizations from a press gaggle.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.