President Donald Trump spoke for more than two hours on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and toward the end he bragged that nobody left early. We’ll take Trump’s word about that, but figure it’s more a testament to the loyalty of his fans than the quality of the performance.
The speech was mostly a longer than usual reprisal of all his campaign rally speeches. Like a rock star with no new album to promote, he gave the fans all the hits they came to hear. As always the show started with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” and ended with the odd choice of the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What Your Wants, and in between here was much bragging, severe denunciations of his critics, some dubious economic history and few outright falsehoods, a couple of barnyard epithets that thrilled the crowd, and the familiar of chants of “build that wall!” and “lock her up!” and “USA! USA!”
Trump bragged about the size of his electoral college victory without mentioning his popular vote loss, took full credit for a slight Republican gain in the Senate during the mid-term election without accepting any blame for a lopsided loss of seats in the House of Representatives, and boasted of his standing-room-only crowds wherever he goes. Of course he also claimed full credit for the currently healthy state of the American economy, falsely claiming that the stock markets were falling and unemployment was rising when he was elected, and further bragged about not having gray hair and all the rich friends who call him “Mr. President.” He further bragged that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has told Trump that he’s a great president and “one of the smartest people he’s ever met,” although he complained that Newsom won’t admit it. Oh, and he also bragged that his rambling and disjointed speech was unscripted, telling the crowd that “If we don’t go off script, we’re in big trouble.”
Much of the speech, as usual, was spent hurling insults demeaning nicknames at his perceived enemies. Trump excoriated the past several decades of American leadership, both Republican and Democratic, accusing them of “blunders and betrayals, serious betrayals.” The crowd was assured that the reporters who write unflattering stories about Trump are “sick people, very sick people.” The Democrats in Congress who are launching oversight investigations of Trump are also “sick people,” and Trump added that “We have people in Congress who hate our country. We can name them if they want, they hate our country.” He didn’t name any of them, although he earlier had said that Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii — or Ohio, as Trump didn’t seem sure — was “like a crazy person,” and counted “Shifty Little (Rep. Adam) Schiff” was one of the “sick people.” At least Trump didn’t call Schiff “Adam Schitt,” as he’d done in a “tweet” that the fans thought hilarious, but he did tell crowd that the Democrats are “trying to take me down with bullshit,” which got the biggest laugh of the night from the crowd of self-described conservatives.
It wasn’t just Democrats and other sick America-haters who came under fire. Trump mocked the southern accent of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which got a rare mixed reaction from the crowd, and while he didn’t mention the name he also railed against Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as “a gentleman who loves raising interest rates, loves quantitative tightening, loves a strong dollar.” Of course Trump didn’t mention that he’d appointed both Sessions and Powell to their posts, and of course the crowd didn’t notice. He also boasted that the Republicans who occasional object to Trump’s policies and behaviors are politically endangered, and said the “Never Trump” portion of the Republican is “on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” which he liked so much he repeated it twice.
From time to time the speech would address matters of public policy, and although the crowd got a bit bored it didn’t seem to mind that much of what Trump was saying either poorly reasoned or simply untrue.
In defense of his protectionist trade policies, Trump recalled “The Great Tariff Debate of 1880,” which he said was mostly about how to spend all money that America was making from tariffs. We assume he meant the tariff debate of 1888, which then as now was mostly about whether tariffs help or hurt an economy, with industries in need of protection from foreign competition taking one side and export industries in need of free trade on the opposing sides. Since then the American economy has evolved to a point that domestic industries are more competitive and the export sector has significantly grown, the Sixteenth Amendment that created the income tax means the federal government no longer depends on tariffs, and the debate of 1888 isn’t quite so instructive to the adoring crowds as Trump seems to think.
Trump also took aim at the unabashed socialism of several Democratic stars and their proposed “Green New Deal,” and while we also decry that leftward drift we’d prefer the more honest criticisms that might persuade the vast majority of the public that isn’t cheering at the CPAC rally. He ridiculed the Democrats support for wind power, suggesting Americans wouldn’t be able to watch television on a calm day, and although we have our doubts about wind power subsidies we do know that the electricity they generate is stored in batteries for such contingencies. He also overstated the support that the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” currently has in the Democratic party — he once again insisted on calling it the “Democrat party,” by the way — and had no kind words for the centrists resisting such policies, as they presumably also hate America.
There are a few hidebound Republicans left in Congress who object to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to re-appropriate funds for that big, beautiful wall Trump has promised on the southern border, as they argue it septs a precedent for a future Democratic president to make a similar power grab for liberal purposes. Trump rebutted that by saying that the Democrats would do that anyway, so the only thing to do about it is keep Trump in the White House forever, which seemed to make sense to the crowd. The national emergency of illegal immigration took up much of the two hours, with Trump seeming to think that other countries are choosing which of their citizens will try to immigrate to America, and although he has some good ideas about immigration policy reforms we think he’ll need a more fact-based and less brazenly xenophobic sales to persuade that vast majority of Americans who aren’t at the CPAC rally.
Trump also tried to claim his recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was a huge success despite no deals being made, and assured his fans that Kim, unlike those America-hating sickos in Congress and the press, is really a terrific guy at heart. He didn’t repeat his recent statement that he accepted Kim’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the death by torture in a North Korean dungeon of American Otto Warmbier and was greatly saddened to hear about, but he did have kind words for Warmbier’s parents despite their outspoken criticism of the statement.
There’s more, of course, including Trump’s entirely untrue claim that he coined the nickname “Mad Dog” for his defenestrated Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that all of the world’s leaders have told him how they respect that he’s finally standing up for America after the past decades when they were able to take advantage of America’s “ruling class,” even if though won’t so say in public. We could probably go on all night, but our fans aren’t so indulgent as Trumps.
— Bud Norman