Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has released a new video hyping his speech here tomorrow and identifying his pro-gun organisation as Trump’s “most powerful ally”. “Already the forces that conspired to keep Donald Trump out of the White House are coming together to sabotage his administration,” Pierre says, over dystopian footage of violent protests, flag-burning, and Madonna saying she thought about blowing up the White House.
In a Trumpish touch, Cruz claims border agents have told him illegal crossings of the border have decreased by 50% since the election but that the mainstream media won’t report it. We’ll come back to that figure.
Asked about impeachment, Cruz says the Democrats are living in “an alternative universe”.
He claims to have been in an elevator with a liberal Democrat “who was just standing there in a complete stupor … and that hasn’t changed!”
“They’re all like that,” responds his interviewer Mark Levin of the Conservative Review.
Cruz says there is a word for their base.
“Moscow?” suggests Levin (which seems a bit rich).
Cruz says he was going for “bat-crap crazy”.
He says the Democrats have taken the lesson from the election that Hillary Clinton was not leftwing enough. The audience laughs. He says they are heading towards the Sanders/Warren wing of the party.
Cruz says that Democrats are going to oppose everything but Republicans must not allow them to block the business of government (also a bit rich).
He thanks former Senate majority leader Harry Reid for changing congressional rules to make it harder to block nominees and therefore indirectly allowing Trump to elect a very conservative cabinet.
Levin says CPAC should get behind Keith Ellison (who backed Bernie Sanders last year) as the next DNC chair. The crowd seem to like that idea.
Ted Cruz is now on stage discussing the constitution. The Texas senator and former opponent of Donald Trump is attacking the court rulings that have blocked Trump’s travel ban, and a recent decision that ruled that the second amendment does not guarantee Americans the right to own “assault weapons”, which he calls “nuts”.
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who shouted “Hail, Trump! Hail, our people! Hail, victory!” at a meeting in December, has just been escorted out of CPAC by security, according to the Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic. He was the centre of a scrum of media for half an hour or so outside the convention hall beforehand. He has seen his rebranding of the far right – the “alt right” – move closer to the heart of power with the election of Donald Trump and elevation of Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart news website was an unofficial home for the political strand, which has been accused of racism, Islamophobia and neo-Nazism.
The exhibition hall downstairs has just opened. If you’d like Breitbart T-shirt advertising the construction of a BORDER WALL, a book about how the concept of male and female is in danger of being abolished, to sign up for a campaign to make English the official language of Texas, Michigan, Georgia or New Hampshire, a “snowflake coloring book” about Donald Trump, or free ultrasound pregnancy and STI testing by a group that describes itself as “providing abortion alternatives”, you’ve come to the right place.
Conway on feminism
Conway used that short session to set out some of her ideas about women’s equality, although she probably wouldn’t put it like that herself. She rejected the term “feminism”, saying it was perceived as “anti-men” and “pro-abortion”, and said she was raised as a strong, independent woman without anyone using the word feminist or discussing politics.
Her “I’ll have what he’s having” anecdote was a memorable call for equal pay, although it was clearly a call for each woman to fight for that equality individually rather than something that she felt could or should be achieved widely through legislation. She applied the same basic philosophy to the story of her mother, who she said got past the disadvantages life had given her by force of will – “she just figured it out” – rather than through any help the state or society might be able to offer.
Given the opportunity by Schlepp, Conway tried to humanise Trump, although some may doubt the ability to “absorb information” of a man who at times has seemed woefully underprepared to weigh in on complex political issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her claim that CPAC was now becoming “TPAC” seemed somewhat backed up by cheers for her remarks about Trump not being a typical politician and intending to shake up the system.
Conway says that during her career she found it difficult to ask for the amount of money she felt she was worth. In 1996 there was an incident when she did not know what sum to name for her speaking fee. So, referring to a fellow male speaker, she said, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
“When in doubt just say, ‘I’ll have what he’s having,’” she says, to cheers. There is another standing ovation as she leaves the stage.
Schlepp asks how college students can “survive” in liberal institutions.
“Don’t live online, live in real time,” Conway advises. “Make sure people see something other than the top of your head.”
Join different clubs, start different clubs, write letters to the editor. Be willing to hear the word no more than you say it, she says.
She also thanks the “old timers like me” in the audience for “sticking with the conservative movement”.
Trump replaced the “fiction of electability” with the “revelation of electricity”, she says.
There are cheers when she says he is not a typical politician and that he is going to shake up the system.
What is Trump like in private?
Conway says he can be kind, generous, and humorous, and a family man.
“He’s a man who just absorbs information,” she says.
The “typical motivators” of a politician – “power, money and fame” – he had all that, she says, implying that doesn’t motivate him.
His biggest compliment is to say someone is “really high energy”, she says. “He works harder than anyone.”
How has Trump impacted the conservative movement? “I think by tomorrow this’ll be TPAC!” she says, to some laughter.
Schlapp starts by asking Conway about her early life and becoming the first successful female campaign manager for a major party and her current job as counsellor to the president. Conway says that is a blessing.
She says she was raised as a strong and independent woman “without anyone saying the word ‘feminist’ or having a political conversation”.
She says it is not widely understood what a great boss Donald Trump is to women. She says that during the election women looked past “the commonality of gender” to vote for him.
She says she is not comfortable calling herself a feminist because the term is “anti-male” and “pro-abortion”.
She talks about how her mother overcame disadvantages by relying on her “moxy” – “she just figured it out”.
She claims a lot of women “just have a problem with women in power”.
Schlepp says “conservative women and men in this room – we support you”, to applause.
Conway gets a short standing ovation as she arrives.
Good morning from the Gaylord Convention Center just south of Washington DC. In the main hall Welcome to the Jungle by Guns ‘n’ Roses and NRA ads have given way to the pledge of allegiance and a Jimi Hendrix-style electric guitar version of The Star-Spangled Banner. Attendees – most dressed smartly, with the odd “socialism sucks” T-shirt and historical reenactment outfit in the mix – are beginning to gather for the opening speaker, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who will be interviewed by Mercedes Schlapp of the Washington Times.
When Donald Trump abruptly dropped out of a speaking slot at last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference amid threats of a walk-out and claims that he wasn’t a true conservative, his campaign put out a statement reassuring the annual rightwing grassroots gathering that he “looks forward to returning next year, hopefully as President of the United States”.
Trump will indeed be returning as president this year – and not alone. Like the Republican party and the Washington DC establishment before it, CPac has become subject to a hostile takeover. This bastion of libertarianism and small-government, free-trade conservatism will this week be forced to reckon with the nationalist populism that has now become the dominant force in rightwing politics in the US.
Perhaps no one besides Trump represents this strain of thought more clearly than Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist and former Breitbart boss who will speak today alongside Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. The relationship between the upstart firebrand who the Democrats have called a white supremacist and the establishment former RNC chair in many ways symbolises the struggle for control of Trump’s agenda, and the way the two interact on stage will be fascinating to watch.
Opening the day is another key Trump ally, adviser to the president Kellyanne Conway, who since last year has made a career out of touring the TV studios channelling her master’s voice – and his disregard for the truth. Her coining of the phrase “alternative facts” may come to be remembered as one of the key phrases of post-truth politics, but one senses that despite this and other controversies, Trump probably enjoys and respects her scrappy style and her constant willingness to stick her neck out for him (and his daughter’s businesses).
Later comes education secretary Betsy DeVos, whose performance at her confirmation hearing was judged so weak that Mike Pence was forced to use the vice-president’s Senate casting vote to confirm a cabinet nominee for the first time. Some of the issues that so exercised Democrats – such as her support for spending public money on private schools – will hardly worry this audience, but she may be keen to shift a perception that she has failed to master her brief.
Pence will round out the day – like Priebus a traditional conservative who is likely to use the opportunity to build bridges with his fellow rightwingers by emphasising the elements of Trump’s record so far they will appreciate – his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court, for example, or his executive order banning international NGOs from providing abortion services if they receive US funding.
In among all these Trump loyalists a former enemy has snuck in: Ted Cruz, who came first in the CPac “straw poll” of presidential candidates last year (Trump came third). Of course, Cruz eventually went on to endorse Trump, but not before being booed at the Republican convention for telling delegates to “vote your conscience” following a bad-tempered primary campaign in which the two men argued about each other’s wives and Trump infamously suggested Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of JFK. The Texas senator is due to discuss the constitution today, and is likely to be more emollient, although any mention of the separation of powers or freedom of religion is bound to be interpreted as a dig at a president who has shown little appreciation for either.
Trump will address the conference tomorrow, and some in the crowd may remain to be convinced. As baffling as it may seem on the left, some traditional conservatives still fear their new president is a liberal in sheep’s clothing, who couldn’t care less about their values and ideology and is willing to spend massively and undermine free trade to meet his promises to rust belt voters who want to see manufacturing jobs return and immigration curtailed. Conservatives “don’t think he’d ever read their novel, their policy paper, their magazine article — or even listen to them for more than five minutes,” anti-tax activist Grover Norquist recently told the New York Times. But perhaps it’s more likely they will put aside their differences and make nice with the man who stunned both their party and the country. Nothing succeeds like success. More on that tomorrow.
Today’s full schedule is here, and below are some of the highlights:
- 9.10am: Kellyanne Conway interview
- 9.30am: Discussion: Fake Climate News Camouflaging an Anti-Capitalist Agenda – and What President Trump Plans To Do About It
- 9.30am: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker explains “How to Govern as a Conservative”
- 10.05 am: a panel of governors – Walker again, along with Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Doug Ducey of Arizona – explain how they are “reclaiming America’s promise”
- 11.10am: Ted Cruz discusses the constitution
- 11.10am: Discussion: Fake News and the Lame Stream Media
- Followed by: Book signing: Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men Into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps, by Burgess Owens
- 11.30am: Discussion: Always on Target: 2nd Amendment Activism Made Simple
- 11.40am: Discussion: FREE stuff vs FREE-dom: Millenials’ Love Affair with Bernie Sanders
- 12.50am: Betsy DeVos – interview
- 1.05pm: Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon
- 2.30pm: Discussion: The Popular Vote – Does it Matter & What You Can Do About It
- 4.40pm: Discussion: Black Lives Matter, so why does the Left not support Law Enforcement?
- 5pm: Discussion: Russia: A Friend or Foe
- 7.30pm: Mike Pence
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