The highlight of the CPAC Conference was bound to be the speech from President Trump. Coming immediately after an active week where he was in North Korea for unfruitful negotiations, and the House Democrats flexing their newly christened muscles by calling Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen in to testify there could have been ample chance for the President to deliver commentary or malaprops on those issues.
As it turned out he not only failed to seriously address either issue, the very long and ad-libbed monologue was mostly content free. Short on actual policy talk and long on self-aggrandizement The President only delivered occasional nuggets that would perk up the ears.
By way of openers, before taking the dais, we were treated to a video of Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, making a contentious appearance last night with Chris Cuomo on his primetime CNN show. It worked well to get the audience into a proper fervor, staging the “fake news” outlet (as many there surely held) as a ready-made foil.
The chairman next came out to give his introductory speech, and it says plenty that Schlapp may have delivered the better pull quote of the affair. “The national media thinks the First Amendment was created just for them, but it was made for all of us.” So with the “Us against them” concept cemented into place, the President came out to deliver a bromide-laden talk to the “Us”.
After pausing to wrap his arms around a flag that was anchored stage-left, Trump proceeded to give a talk that was very pro-American, and rather pro-him, while actually not delving directly into the subject of the majority of the conference, that being the concerted fight against socialism. While a wealth of the speakers at the conference were leaning heavily on that topic Trump took his time even getting to that moment, and even then gave it light consideration.
In mentioning the tariffs policy he opened with a common theme in this talk, namely how many people like him. (Gavin Newsom is a big fan, who knew?!) The Chinese leader is quite taken with him, and Trump was tight enough to actually ask him directly about how their country got such favorable tariffs? “How did you get away with this?!” is how he supposedly broached the subject, only to be told that before Trump nobody ever said anything!
After a number of unplanned anecdotes (one of his biggest applause lines was he declaring “This is how I got elected, by going off script!”) the President veered into some of his legal wranglings. He mentioned his AG Jeff Sessions, affecting a Southern accent to make his point. “The attorney general says: ‘I’m gonna recuse myself,’” using the drawl for emphasis. “Why the hell did he not tell me before?!”
He then took things indirectly into the Mueller investigation, highlighting how the lead investigator was unelected. The lead Democrat in Trump’s crosshairs has become properly christened with a nickname — “Little Shifty Schiff.” Then Trump gave his impression of the whole affair, using notedly unPresidential language to describe the overall investigation. “Unfortunately, you put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that should not be there. All of a sudden, they are trying to take you out with bull**it. With bulls**it!”
Beyond this, there was little in the way of red meat. He brought up on stage Hayden Williams, the conservative student activist who was recently assaulted on the campus of Berkeley. He used this moment to announce an impending executive order that would require colleges to recognize free speech. “If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden, and many other great young people and old people to speak. Free speech.”
Then with some probably unintended irony, the free speech had a price tag. “If they don’t, it will be very costly.”
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