CPAC honors Trump with a hero's welcome

After his victory lap, Trump told conservative activists to fear Democrats: "They'll take away your 2nd Amendment"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published February 23, 2018 1:00PM (EST)

Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference February 23, 2018. (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference February 23, 2018. (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

In a long and rambling address to the right-wing activist at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, President Donald Trump fed the Republican activists cultural red meat and went off script — to the audience's delight.

The overflow CPAC crowd jumped to its feet numerous times — at the demand that Americans stand for the national anthem, at his call for more guns to fight gun violence, and when he attacked House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi — during yet another long victory lap speech — one that came 472 days after he won the election.

Trump, once a Democratic donor who was forced to cancel his appearance at CPAC only two years ago because so many attendees found him anathema to their principles, received a hero’s welcome from many of the same conservatives on Friday.

"I think now we've proved that I'm a conservative," he said to cheers.

"By the way, what a nice picture that is. I'd love to watch that guy speak," the president said while pointing to a big screen projecting his image.  

"I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks," he added, patting the back of his head.

At CPAC, Trump was clearly in his element. Surrounded by his strongest supporters, the president was thrilled to spend more than an hour reminiscing about his surprise 2016 election win.

"We've got seven years to go folks!" Trump promised to rev up the crowd.

“Lock her up!” they responded, as Trump claimed his political opponents “have committed a lot of atrocities.”

Meanwhile, one of Trump’s top campaign aides, Rick Gates, announced he would plead guilty — another notch in Robert Mueller's investigation.

"We're fighting a lot of forces. They're forces that are doing the wrong thing," Trump said on Friday.

"They'll take away your Second Amendment,” Trump told CPAC, moving on to the other big national news story following the Parkland school shooting last week. “We will never allow to happen," he promised his base. He then bizarrely polled the audience on what they’d like better: the Second Amendment or the recently passed GOP tax cuts. The applause for guns was louder than tax cuts.

However, in a notable break with the NRA, who Trump praised shortly before leaving the White House for CPAC,  the president pitched strengthening background checks during his speech. He then called for arming teachers.

“A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,"  Trump said, in reference to America’s latest mass shooter, to raucous applause. 

The rest of Trump's speech included a familiar poem, an attack on Republican Sen. John McCain, an homage to Billy Graham, and fearmongering over MS-13, all of which received a rowdy reaction, including loud booing of McCain, from the audience at CPAC.

A solid portion of Trump's speech was mostly a recitation of his greatest hits in office:

"No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term that we've cut in one year."

"We were in war and we've ended the war on beautiful clean coal."

Moments before leaving the stage, Trump remembered to announce new sanctions against North Korea.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Conservatives Cpac Donald Trump Republican Base