WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump spoke for more than two hours on the last day of a packed Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 2.
He hit on all the major topics of his “America First” agenda, while mixing in some off-script riffing that resonated with the appreciative crowd.
At one point, he said: “I’m totally off script right now. And this is how I got elected, by being off script.”
“Our movement and our future in our country is unlimited,” Trump said. “I think we’re going to do even better in 2020.”
He touched on the booming economy, low unemployment numbers, the resurgence in manufacturing, stronger military, and a strengthening of traditional values.
“We’re reclaiming our nation’s priceless heritage,” he said.
Trump explained his use of the tariff system as leverage to secure better trade deals, and to protect U.S. interests—with an overall goal of having reciprocity and dropping tariffs altogether.
“With your help, we’re reversing decades of blunders and betrayals … It’s been done by the failed ruling class that enriched foreign countries at our expense,” he said. “America is winning again, America is respected again, and the world knows it.”
Trump ridiculed the Green New Deal that was recently introduced by Democrats.
“No planes. No energy. When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. It would force the destruction or renovation of virtually every structure in the United States,” he said. “Perhaps nothing is more extreme than the Democrat plan to take over American energy.”
Trump said he encourages the Democrats to embrace the new plan, insinuating it’ll make it easier for him to win in 2020. “This is a killer … I want them to embrace this plan. … I just want to be the Republican that runs against them.”
As with Vice President Mike Pence’s speech the day prior, Trump criticized the Democrats’ push for socialism.
“Democratic lawmakers are now embracing socialism. They want to replace individual rights with total government domination,” he said. “Socialism is not about the environment. It’s not about justice. It’s not about virtue. Socialism is about only one thing—it’s called power for the ruling class.”
Trump’s actions as president have pushed back from a drift to socialism, and toward a reduction in government oversight and regulation.
“The future does not belong to those who believe in socialism,” he said. “The future belongs to those who believe in freedom. I have said it before, and I will say it again: America will never be a socialist country.”
Trump praised young conservatives, singling out Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. He invited onto stage Hayden Williams, who was punched in the face while recruiting conservative students at the University of California–Berkeley on Feb. 20.
“If these socialist progressives had their way, they’d put the Constitution through a paper shredder,” Williams said.
Trump suggested that Williams should sue the offender and the university.
He also said he will soon sign an executive order that will require colleges to support free speech if they want federal funding.
“Every day, we’re restoring common sense and the timeless values that unite us all, we believe in the Constitution and the rule of law,” Trump said. “We’re hopefully going to be here for six more years, so you’re in good shape.”
Trump brought up the crisis at the southern border, defending the national emergency he declared to redirect money to build around 234 miles of border fencing.
“The lawless chaos on our southern border provides a lucrative cash flow to some of the most dangerous criminal organizations on the planet. Deadly cartels constantly violate our borders,” he said. “We are being invaded. We’re being invaded by drugs, by people, by criminals, and we have to stop it.”
He talked about switching to a merit-based immigration system, while putting an end to chain migration, the diversity visa lottery, the anchor baby phenomenon, and sanctuary cities.
“We need an immigration policy where people coming in will love our country and love our fellow citizens. And this includes shutting down sanctuary cities,” he said.
The president criticized Senate Democrats for supporting late-term abortions, and even infanticide. On Feb. 26, 44 Democrats voted against a bill that would protect the life of a child who was born alive after a botched abortion.
Trump also defended his position with the North Korea denuclearization negotiations.
“I just returned from Vietnam, where I had very productive meetings with Kim Jong Un,” he said. “I had to walk. Because every once in a while you have to walk. The deal wasn’t a deal that was acceptable to me.”
His tone remained lighthearted when turning to topics such as the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller; first criticizing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation, before launching into an attack on Mueller and his team.
“Robert Mueller put 13 of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission,” he said, adding that one was involved with the Clinton Foundation. Trump said he had a nasty business transaction with Robert Mueller years ago, which is not often mentioned as a conflict of interest. Trump moved on to slam former FBI Director James Comey, calling him a “dirty cop.”
Feeding off the responsive crowd, Trump spent much of his speech entertaining the audience with stories about generals, his trip to Iraq over Christmas, and several Democrats—at one point, saying: “I’m going to regret this speech.”
As with his Make America Great Again rallies, Trump elicited familiar chants from the audience, including “U-S-A,” “Lock her up,” and “Build the wall.”
The “32 big, fat rallies” that he held before the 2018 midterm elections were instrumental in bolstering the Senate, and consequently, nominations to the judiciary, Trump said.
The audience for CPAC was a record size, according to American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp.
Aside from more than 9,000 people in attendance at the main site in Maryland, another almost 20,000 attended at three satellite campuses around the country.