OXEN HILL, Maryland—President Donald Trump used his Friday speech at CPAC 2018—an annual conservative conference co-sponsored by the National Rifle Association—to plug his efforts to arm teachers as a deterrent against school shooters.
“We really have to strengthen up background checks,” Trump told an enthralled crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The comment, which vaguely appeared to back the sort of proposal that the gun-rights movement has previously fought tooth-and-nail to water down and defang, got some some applause from the crowd of conservative activists and political leaders.
It was the kind of large gathering that Trump has come to rely on for mass validation and relief from the churn of a daily news cycle that focuses intensely on his administration’s numerous scandals. But at CPAC 2018, the College Republicans, conservative activists, rowdy fans, and GOP luminaries like Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany simply watched in total awe.
And all Trump had to do was repeat his old lines, many of which were nothing more than campaign dust-offs, including his re-reading of “The Snake” poem.
But as the speech dragged on, the sneaking suspicion that attendees had heard all of this before started to permeate. Though the house was packed with the usual fanboys who whooped and jeered at Trump’s every command, the crowd was conspicuously dotted by young observers who, close to the speech’s conclusion, began to stare blankly and sit down with their hands pressed against their cheeks.
The loudest and most excited the audience got was when the president assailed the same enemies or engaged in the same culture-war tactics he’s zeroed in on for the past two and a half years.
He, of course, had his fun. He made a prolonged crack about his own balding. He mocked Sen. John McCain, who is suffering from terminal cancer, without naming him because he did not want to be “controversial.” Once again, the room boomed with the crowd shouting about locking Hillary Clinton, Trump’s onetime general-election opponent, “UP!”
Trump even jokingly polled the audience at the event, asking the audience whether they would rather keep recently enacted tax cuts or the Second Amendment. The crowd decisively favored the latter.
It was vintage Trump, and harkened back to his irreverent attitude on the 2016 campaign trail. And a year into his presidency, the crowd is still chanting “LOCK HER UP,” even as news broke this morning about how a former senior Trump aide was preparing to plead guilty to federal criminal charges.
A somber moment commemorating the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week didn’t come until roughly 45 minutes into the speech.
Trump reiterated his proposal to arm schoolteachers in order to prevent similar massacres.
“A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he ever knew what happened,” the president said.
Trump peppered his speech with with taglines sure to elicit long applause breaks, such as “in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” and “we all proudly stand for the national anthem.”
But for the most part, it was another cookie-cutter Trump speech rooted in the president’s usual feuds and grievances. And the crowd loved every second of it, further demonstrating how the modern Republican Party had been subsumed into Trumpism.
This year, it’s still his party, his conservative movement, his CPAC, his American Conservative Union.
It is, as White House counselor Kellyanne Conway described it a year ago, now, for all intents and purposes, “TPAC.”
“I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative,” President Trump told the crowd in the main ballroom on Friday morning.