Friday morning, President Donald Trump addressed CPAC for the first time since becoming president of the United States. At a time when conservatives need leadership from the president, his speech was a disappointment.
“It’s great to be back at CPAC,” the president said to an adoring crowd. “I wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to my friends … and we’ll be doing this next year. And the year after that.”
The stakes were high for this address. Weeks of controversy have plagued the new administration and have given the appearance of a failure to launch.
How so? The president’s first major action, an executive order on immigration, was poorly executed. Despite the president’s clear statutory authority to issue the order, the administration was unable to defend its action in court. The president’s first choice for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was forced to resign amid controversy over his communications with the Russians.
Campaign promises also remain unfulfilled. The president abandoned social conservatives by giving up on an executive order meant to undo an Obama-era directive that harms religious liberty. The president’s repeated pledge to undo President Obama’s illegal amnesty executive order seems dead now. Obamacare is still in place. Tax reform is delayed.
On top of all that several members of the president’s Cabinet are still yet to be confirmed amid Democratic obstruction in the Senate.
Perception is everything in politics, and the missteps from these first few weeks have overshadowed the administration’s successes. For the first time most Americans disapprove of the president’s job performance.
Trump’s appearance at CPAC was a time for the president to reset the agenda. Using his bully pulpit, Trump had an opportunity to assure his conservative base that the administration is moving to keep the promises President Trump made on the campaign trail.
Here was a chance to explain how he will make his vision of governance a reality; to identify how the Democratic party is obstructing the policies the American people voted to implement last November; to outline, for Congress and for the people, the way forward on achieving the repeal of Obamacare, tax reform, the border wall, and the steps necessary to deconstruct the administrative state.
Instead, the president gave a vapid campaign speech, complete with allusions to action in the future and assurances that conservatives will win again.
He began by, rightfully, criticizing the “fake news” media for publishing inaccurate stories. The liberal media certainly deserves to be criticized, but the president already did so last week.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) February 24, 2017
When the president finally addressed the policies his administration will pursue, he did so using oft-repeated phrases from the campaign trail. The gist of the entire speech was presented in one passage:
We will reduce your taxes. We will cut your regulations. We will support our police. We will defend our flag. We will rebuild our military. We will take care of our great, great veterans … we will fix our broken and embarrassing trade deals … we will cut wasteful spending. We will promote our values. We will rebuild our inner cities. We will bring back our jobs and our dreams. And by the way, we will protect our second amendment.
The priority facing Republicans is keeping six years of campaign promises and fully repealing Obamacare. There are good plans for doing so introduced in Congress, but Trump didn’t mention them. “Obamacare doesn’t work … we’re changing it,” he said. “We’re gonna make it much better. We’re gonna make it less expensive.”
Those are great promises, but the American people don’t need promises. They need promises kept. This government needs leadership to ensure that they are kept. And so far the president is acting more like a cheerleader than a leader.
In this respect, the president’s speech highlights a problem with CPAC itself. Just what is the Conservative Political Action Conference conserving? What plans of action are in development to achieve conservative victory?
To be sure, there are breakout sessions where those conversations are happening. But panel attendance is slim. For every conservative looking for an opportunity to advance conservatism, there is someone else looking to make a quick buck. There are times at CPAC when one even wonders if the people speaking are there to promote a legislative agenda, or just to sell a new book or land a new job.
I've never been led to believe that CPAC was anything more than a meet market for upwardly mobile bourgeois using conservatism to get ahead
— Miles Smith IV (@IVMiles) February 20, 2017
Conservatism has enough cheerleaders. Our movement needs leadership. When the president of the United States tells conservatives “Our victory was a win for everyone who believes in conservative values,” he has the responsibility to demonstrate how that is the case.
How can he lead? Start by pressuring this hesitant Congress to take immediate action to repeal Obamacare and endorse a replacement plan. Instruct Congress to end the liberal judiciary’s interference with executive branch’s legal authority to restrict immigration.
“The era of empty talk is over,” President Trump said. “Now is the time for action”
Those are words the conservative movement needs to apply to itself. Those are words conservatives want the president to live by. But if President Trump’s speech is an indication of things to come, you can’t always get what you want. (For more from the author of “President Trump’s CPAC Speech Sounded Great … But Was a Total Disappointment. Sad!” please click HERE)