NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Last year, this was Ted Cruz country. Today, it was The Donald J. Trump Show.
At the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference hosted by the American Conservative Union at National Harbor, Trump made his triumphant CPAC homecoming on Friday morning, not as a reality-TV star or a birther novelty as he has in the past, but as a nationalist icon—and the leader of the free world with a Secret Service detail.
“I love this place," Trump said to the adoring, excitable crowd of College Republicans, conservative activists and voters, and pro-Trump luminaries such as Scottie Nell Hughes. Trump fans were packed into the hotel ballroom, with many spilling over into the press pen.
“Liars!” and “fake news!” some of the rowdier attendees jeered.
They were gleefully following the lead of their new president, who kicked off his speech with another salvo at “the media” and investigative reporting that revealed bad behavior in his nascent administration.
Sure, the president hit his classic, campaign-trail standbys: “Obamacare doesn’t work,” Trump repeated. (“Kill it!” a supporter shouted at the stage.) He opined on building that wall. He spoke about how the Democratic primary was “rigged against” Bernie Sanders and in favor of Hillary Clinton. “We’re getting bad ones out,” he said, discussing his hardline immigration policies. “None of these big quagmire deals,” he said, riffing on trade. He promised to keep the “radical Islamic terrorists the hell out” of our country. He smirked as his supporters started a “LOCK HER UP! LOCK HER UP!” chant.
But he led with his—and his White House staff’s—favorite political and rhetorical pastime: political and rhetorical pastime: bashing reporters.
“The media didn’t think we would win,” Trump reminded the crowd. “The pundits didn’t think we would win…They underestimated the power of the people: you.”
Trump’s repeated digs at “the dishonest media” were met with “USA! USA!” chants from the room.
“Never underestimate the people—never,” he continued.
For all his time serving as commander-in-chief, Trump has enjoyed a new career as the world’s most famous media critic. Allegedly “fake news” is the biggest thorn in President Media Critic’s side.
“I want you all to know we are fighting the fake news. It’s phony. Fake!” he said to applause and laughter.
The president repeated his line that mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and NBC News are the “enemy” of the American people.
“They are—the enemy of the people—because they have no sources, they just make it up,” he claimed, soldiering on in his long-running crusade against “the media.”
He encouraged reporters, including the many gathered in the room to hear him speak, to never use anonymous sources. The president was still upset with a CNN report from Thursday that said that the FBI had rejected a request from the White House to knock down reports on communications between Trump allies and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Let their name be put out there,” he dared. “Let them say it to my face.”
The audience happily played along. “CNN SUCKS!” some yelled, as others booed. “I LOVE YOU DONALD!” another belted out. “We love you, Mr. President!” several exclaimed.
"[The media] doesn't represent the people, it never will represent the people, and we're going to do something about it,” Trump promised.
Left-leaning protesters, for the most part, sat this one out. There was one skinny young man in the audience who screamed, “FASCIST!” at the president, and was quickly escorted out by security.
However, much of the antipathy at CPAC towards President Trump wasn’t coming from outsiders—it was coming from within the ACU itself.
“If [the ACU endorses Trump], it will be the darkest day in this organization’s history,” Thomas Winter, first vice chairman of the ACU and former Human Events editor, warned the ACU board of directors in the summer of last year.
Multiple board members also told The Daily Beast that board members this week were similarly worried about the “fascist” and “Jew-hating” and “white nationalist” elements that have “infected” the Republican Party, in the form of the racist, pro-Trump, and nationalist alt-right.
“The revolution is here, and it’s bloody, man,” one ACU board member told The Daily Beast earlier this week. “The craziest elements of the [party] have managed to get every single thing they wanted over the past year. I care about the [conservative] movement and I care where it goes. This is the shape our movement is in today.”
Still, in public, ACU leadership wanted everyone to know that everything was roses between them and President Trump.
“We will continue to have your back,” ACU chairman Matt Schlapp said, introducing Trump on the mainstage.
On Thursday, Kellyanne Conway, who now serves as a counselor to the president, addressed the CPAC audience, and talked about how Trump had, in her view, revitalized a withered American conservatism.
“Tomorrow, this will be ‘TPAC,’” Conway told the crowd.