The Gazette: Trump will make or break GOP in 2018
Author: The Gazette Editorial Board - February 24, 2018 - Updated: February 24, 2018
OXON HILL, Md. — Whatever happens in the 2018 midterms won’t be politics as usual for either major party. The conservative base is all in for President Donald Trump, which will help or hurt the Republican Party’s candidates this fall who will determine whether the right maintains control of Congress.
CPAC, by far the largest annual gathering of conservative politicos, has symbolized Republican dysfunction and a lack of direction since Reagan left office in 1988. The four-day convention, just outside Washington, pits centrists against purists, libertarians against “establishment” types, and fiscal conservatives against religious right activists who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.
When Trump took the stage at CPAC in 2015 while contemplating a presidential run, he confronted a mostly skeptical crowd of college-aged conservatives who considered him a distraction. They asked him to stick with construction and reality TV. Notable factions wanted Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. No visibly significant contingent supported Trump. The next year, as an announced candidate, Trump steered clear of CPAC.
Friday, three years later almost to the day of his awkward 2015 appearance, an unscripted Trump confidently joked about his comb-over hairdo — “I try like hell to hide that bald spot” — to the largest CPAC audience in the program’s 40-year history. The crowd fell in love.
Attendees displayed no visible division. Old-timers familiar with the early years of CPAC say Reagan had less unified support than what Trump enjoys.
The president established an “us-against-the-world” atmosphere early in his talk, demonizing “fake media” in the back of the room, assuring the audience a single protester would headline Saturday’s CPAC reports.
“Remember when I first started running and I wasn’t a politician, fortunately?” Trump asked the audience, which stood through much of his 75-minute talk. “People said ‘are you a conservative?’ I think we’ve proven that one now.”
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., was among a large contingent of Republicans at Friday’s talk who never thought they would see Trump as the Republican Party’s long-awaited Elvis.
“The crowd was raucous and overwhelmingly pleased with him,” Beauprez said. “You can pick Reagan, or any favorite conservative of anyone’s lifetime, and that person’s biggest supporters would be pleased at the accomplishments of this administration in just 13 months. I don’t know when I was in a room that had more energy than this. This event is a barometer of the conservative movement, and the division is just gone. There is no sign of it, at all.”
Trump brought the crowd to ovations while talking about tax cuts, judicial appointments, economic growth, gun rights, employment, the end of the Obamacare mandate, an executive order that is gutting regulation of businesses, and more.
“No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term,” Trump said. “And it’s my opinion that the regulations had as big an impact as these massive tax cuts.”
CPAC attendees spoke with The Gazette about results they attribute to Trump. They glossed over the president’s notorious buffoonery, cavalier tweets — even an alleged porn star tryst — with chuckles and eye rolls.
Beauprez said Trump’s cuts to regulations may become the Republican Party’s greatest asset in November. The founder of a bank chain, Beauprez and his wife, Claudia, chose to sell the business when he was in Congress in 2007.
“I’ve got big government all over my body, because I was in banking and in food production as a dairy farmer,” Beauprez said. “Regulations of both industries became crazy, extreme and unfair. The optimism you sense in the marketplace is a direct result of the assurance regulations of business activity are going down. Finally, there is someone incentivizing people to embrace opportunities they dream about, encouraging them to make their dreams happen. Instead of ‘no you won’t,’ we have someone in the White House who says you can and you should. That has unified the party and the business community like I’ve never seen before.”
Trump spoke for more than 10 minutes about school shootings, selling his audience on the need for more prosecution of gun crimes and policies to get more guns into the hands of well-trained adults in positions of trust. He contrasted the Florida security officer, who failed to defend high school students, with teachers who love students so much they take bullets for them.
An armed teacher “would have shot the hell out of him,” Trump said of the recent Florida school shooter.
Love or hate this presidency, Trump may be the most powerful source of political disruption and chaos in the history of American presidential politics. His cavalier style unifies a right-of-center political movement that functioned for the past 30 years like a herd of feral cats.
This could bode well for Republicans in November, or it could be their downfall if Trump implodes. Each side of the aisle had best understand this unforeseen phenomenon and learn to campaign without regard for obsolete rules of traditional politics. In Trump’s country, they no longer apply.
The Gazette editorial board
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