President Donald Trump has had a bumpy history with the conservative movement.
The part-time Palm Beacher is a former Hillary Clinton donor who once said George W. Bush should have been impeached and whose variegated ideological past includes support for abortion rights, universal health care, an assault weapons ban and a massive “wealth tax.”
Only a year ago, as Trump was emerging as the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, he finished a distant third in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll behind Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
But winning an election can smooth over a lot of hard feelings, and Trump visited CPAC on Friday as a conquering hero.
The president’s speech to the thousands of cheering CPAC attendees ripped the mainstream media — a favorite conservative target for decades — and tried to nudge conservatism and the GOP toward a Trumpian brand of populism and nationalism.
“The forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer. That is the heart of this new movement and the future of the Republican Party…The GOP will be from now on the party also of the American worker,” Trump said near the end of his 50-minute appearance.
Trump sharpened the “America first” theme of his inaugural address by contrasting it with globalism.
“Global cooperation, dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries, is good. It’s very important,” Trump said. “But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe. I’m representing your country.”
Trump has spoken at four previous CPAC conferences, but he made a last-minute withdrawal from the 2016 gathering — drawing accusations he was trying to avoid a planned mass walkout. CPAC’s Twitter account at the time said Trump’s “choice sends a clear message to conservatives.”
But over the past year, Trump’s fights with media and liberals have helped him bond with many on the right.
“You know what I’m learning? How good it feels to have somebody lead our country who knows how to fight. And he’s fighting for you,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said Friday in his introduction of Trump. “And the other thing I’ve learned, especially over the course of the last couple days, is when he fights for us, he unites us.”
Trump spent several minutes early in his remarks responding to the uproar over his recent tweet decrying “fake news” from five major media outlets.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” Trump told Twitter followers on Feb. 17, shortly after arriving in Palm Beach for a weekend with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
At CPAC, which was held just outside of Washington, D.C., Trump said the way the media has responded to that tweet underscores his criticism.
“They’re very dishonest people. In fact, in covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the ‘fake’ news the enemy of the people. The ‘fake’ news – they dropped off the word ‘fake’ and all of a sudden the story became ‘The media is the enemy.’ They take the word ‘fake’ out,” Trump said.
“I’m not against the media. I’m not against the press. I don’t mind bad stories if I deserve them…but I am only against the fake news media or press. Fake. Fake. They have to leave that word. I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there.”
Trump’s own administration used unnamed sources on Friday to push back against a story. Following a longstanding practice used by previous administrations from both parties, the Trump administration had “senior administration officials” offer their version of contact between White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the FBI over an investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.
Trump also rejected suggestions that branding major media outlets as public enemies would have a chilling effect on the constitutional guarantee of free speech.
“I love the First Amendment,” Trump said at CPAC. “Nobody loves it better than me. I mean, who uses it more than I do? But the First Amendment gives all of us…the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right and me the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”
Trump added that “fake news…doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people and we’re going to do something about it because we have to go out and we have to speak our minds.”