Donald Trump may have placed a distant third in last year’s CPAC straw poll, but this year he returned a winner. Over the past two years, Trump has outmatched more than a dozen top-tier GOP challengers and handily dismissed Hillary Clinton, who was considered a shoo-in for the White House. But there was still one last test for Trump: Could he win over conservatives who were skeptical of his past and leery of his unique brand of politics, which was equal parts small-government, big defense, and pro-economic nationalism.
The answer, if yesterday’s rapturous reception for President Trump is any indication, is a resounding “YES.”
He did it by uniting conservatives against the institutional actors who spend their lives preserving the status quo. At the top of that list are the bureaucratic class, who focus on growing their agency fiefdoms even at the expense of growing the economy, and the media, too many of whom have moved away from true journalism and toward anti-Republican sensationalism.
The former is especially important given the recent expansion of the administrative state at the hands of Democrats looking to push their agenda without having to compromise with Congress.
Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s key advisors, described the president’s strategy to “deconstruct” the current regulatory system in his comments to CPAC.
“Every business leader we’ve had in is saying not just taxes, but it is also the regulation. I think the consistent, if you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason, and that is the deconstruction,” he said. “The way the progressive left runs is, if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put some sort of regulation in an agency. That’s all going to be deconstructed and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”
Trump also won by uniting conservatives in favor of a growth-based agenda with a laser-like focus on American prosperity.
A discussion of those ideas dominated his rousing CPAC speech.
“The era of empty talk is over. It’s over,” Trump said. “Now is the time for action. So let me tell you about the actions that we’re taking right now to deliver on our promise to the American people, and on my promise to make America great again.
Among his first priorities are “preparing to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare,” “reduc[ing] the regulations that are crushing our economies [and] crushing our jobs” and “massively lower[ing] taxes on the middle class [and] taxes on American business.” The goal of these actions, and everything President Trump has pledged to do is based around one core concept: America first.
“We will not answer to donors or lobbyists or special interests, but we will serve the citizens of the Untied States of America, believe me. Global cooperation — dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries — is good,” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe.”
This “economic nationalism,” as Bannon would later label it, is still viewed skeptically by many conservatives who have long been in the free-trade camp. But Trump won in no small part because he recognized that the economic gains of globalism haven’t been as widespread as hoped. Too many people are being left behind in the modern economy, the result of corporate cronyism, a coopted government and an uncompetitive tax and regulatory environment. President Trump has made clear his intention to attack each of those issues head on with a goal of returning Americans—all Americans—to prosperity.
“No matter or background, or income, or geography, we are all citizens of this blessed land. And no matter our color, the color of the blood we bleed, it’s the same red blood of great, great American patriots,” Trump said. ‘We all salute with pride the same American flag. And we are equal—totally equal—in the eyes of the Almighty God.”
The crowd erupted into a chant of “USA! USA USA!” And at that moment it became clear that Trump had achieved his most significant victory yet.