Trump returns to CPAC for victory lap

By Kevin Liptak CNN White House Producer

(CNN) — President Donald Trump makes a valedictory return Friday to the right-wing conference where he made his first political inroads, but which he shunned last year during his unconventional 2016 run.

Trump’s speech is the highlight of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, held at a hotel and convention center outside Washington. Trump plans to arrive in his helicopter Marine One to the event, attended by conservative activists.

He first spoke at CPAC in six years ago, then as a brash billionaire with a popular reality television series. He told the crowd then he was considering a run for president — though he ultimately waited until the next election cycle to step into the fray.

Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon told the CPAC audience Thursday that Trump was returning to the conference to express his “appreciation” for the activists’ support.

“This is really where he got his launch, you know, with his ideas in the conservative movement,” Bannon said.

While Trump spoke at CPAC most years after his debut, he was conspicuously absent last year, in the height of the Republican primary contests. Organizers said he wanted only to deliver a speech when they requested he participate in a question-and-answer session.

His GOP rivals did attend, and lightly mocked Trump for his absence.

Trump arrives Friday vindicated and prepared to bask in his unlikely victory.

“I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told the crowd on Thursday.

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