The president abandoned his talking points in his speech to conservative activists in favor of reviving greatest-hits lines from his campaign.
President Donald Trump abandoned a scripted speech to conservatives on Friday to launch into a greatest hits roster of lines from his 2016 campaign, marking a return to candidate mode as he begins campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections.
The speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference was supposed to highlight tax cuts and sanctions targeting North Korea, but veered instead to familiar tropes, including his victory over “crooked” Hillary Clinton and a spirited reading of “The Snake,” an allegorical song that candidate Trump used frequently to illustrate dangers posed by undocumented immigrants.
It was a departure from the slightly more controlled, presidential Trump — who was back in evidence at the White House later in the day speaking alongside Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — and a sign that the president plans to lean heavily on what’s worked for him in the past as he tries to boost Republicans in the November elections.
“It’s now his party. It’s now his conservative movement and there are no challengers. This was like a victory speech,” said Ed Rollins, lead strategist for the pro-Trump Great America super PAC. “It was the kickoff to the 2018 campaign — and the 2020.”
Calling his first 365 days “the most successful first year in the history of the presidency”, Trump went off script to rattle through a list of superlative achievements — the “biggest” tax cuts, “heaviest” sanctions and record firearms prosecutions.
“I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative, right?” Trump told the crowd, as he ran over his allotted time. “We have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.”
Trump warned that complacency in November’s elections could lead to Democratic gains in Congress and, in turn, gun control and higher taxes.
His revival of familiar themes — including not just “crooked” Hillary but also the “very, very crooked” media — prompted chants of “USA” and “Lock her up!” from the crowd at the National Harbor convention center just south of Washington.
Republicans, who control the House and Senate, have advanced their agenda sometimes in spite of the president. Going into this year’s midterms, it’s far from certain that Trump, or the party, can translate those accomplishments into congressional gains.
Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats, including 10 in states that supported Trump over Clinton in 2016, compared with Republicans’ eight. Still, Democrats hope to capitalize on Trump’s low approval ratings, scandals and an investigation into Russian campaign meddling to pare or eliminate Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
As Trump basked in CPAC’s friendly glow, a former campaign aide, Rick Gates, was pleading guilty to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller in a deal that requires Gates to cooperate with Mueller's prosecution of Paul Manafort, Gates' former business partner and Trump’s onetime chairman.
“He made it very clear he’s going to campaign very aggressively in 2018,” Rollins said. “Whether that’s good or bad we’ll find out.”
Trump urged the audience — about 1,000 people — not to get complacent.
“We have a problem: We need more Republicans,” Trump said. “We have to worry — right now, we have a big race coming up in '18. You have to get out. You have to just get that enthusiasm. Keep it going.”