This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) focuses on the new kids on the block, the conservatives elected with tea party backing to overturn the liberal spending agenda in Washington. Nobody could have fit that description better than Donald Trump, who was a surprise speaker at CPAC and is planning to run for president.
Perhaps because Republicans won the House and are not gearing up for an imminent election, the 11,000 attendees seemed a bit less exuberant this year than last. But Trump electrified the crowd with a combination of shots across the Democratic bow and his trademark candid comments and boasts.
“The U.S. is becoming the laughing stock of the world,” Trump said. “Other countries are screwing us.” Trump went on: “Obama had no record before becoming president.” Even the “people who went to school with him never saw him.”
Trump had harsh words for the Somali pirates: If he were president, Trump would have a good admiral and two ships “blast the [Somali] pirates out of the water so fast.”
He spoke words of equality: “I’m well acquainted with women, and that’s what this country needs right now.”
Trump promised to fight to end Obamacare and replace it with fiscally sound improvements to the health insurance system. He said he would not raise taxes and would create vast numbers of new jobs. He described himself as being pro-life and against gun control.
Rep. Ron Paul always has a large contingent of supporters at CPAC, and when some began calling out his name, Trump insisted that Paul has “zero chance of winning” the presidency. At that, some of the Paul supporters booed.
Trump was not listed on the CPAC agenda. The back story is that after I had written stories saying Trump will announce a presidential run in June, Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose foundation runs CPAC, asked over lunch if I would extend an invitation to Trump to speak at CPAC. In a faxed note touching on other matters, I did so on Jan. 24.
In introducing the star of “The Apprentice,” Lisa De Pasquale, director of CPAC, cited those Newsmax stories, which most recently included "Don’t Underestimate Donald Trump for President."
When speaking at CPAC, Trump first read his speech. But as he began to ad lib, the crowd of 2,500 in the ballroom began to give him sustained ovations.
What was most interesting was the reaction of the press corps. More than 500 journalists registered for the conference — a record number. In the press gallery, journalists were laughing with Donald and eating up what he was saying. In contrast, when listening to conservative candidates at CPAC, reporters generally look expressionless.
In terms of celebrity and ability to galvanize the crowd, Trump came across as the new Sarah Palin. But unlike Palin, nobody would question his acumen. In a presidential run, Trump would have the press, which normally carps at Republican candidates, behind him.
CPAC’s exhibit hall had the usual carnival–like atmosphere. Signs at booths said “Kill the Death Tax,” and “Defend Your Healthcare.” Everyone seemed to be interviewing everyone else.
But the star of the show clearly was Trump, who is gearing up to announce his candidacy in June. “If I run and if I win, this country will be respected again,” Trump promised to wild cheers.
To “Money, Money, Money” playing from the theme song of “The Apprentice,” Trump left the podium. A subsequent speaker summed up: Donald would know how to say to President Obama: “You’re fired!”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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