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CPAC Recap


President Trump returned to CPAC this weekend. The annual Conservative Political Action Conference comes as Democratic candidates are already busy laying out the terms of the 2020 campaign. This was a rebuttal of sorts. And NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro was there talking to many of the president's supporters. And he joins us now. Hey, Domenico.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is this true? You've been covering CPAC for 13 years.

MONTANARO: That is true. And it's gone through many iterations. I mean, under George W. Bush, this was a group that really kind of corralled together to support the global war on terrorism after 9/11. Under President Obama, it was really a group that was trying to figure out its way forward. And there was a lot of strains of Rand Paul and Ron Paul libertarianism. And now, frankly, it's all about Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and you talked to activists there. And how are they feeling given how energized Democrats are?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, the fact is grassroots Republicans felt like the president's doing just fine. They like what he's doing. They think he's kept his promises. In fact, Corey Adamyk is a college student from Florida State University. And he talked to my colleague, Scott Detrow. Here's some of what he had to say.

COREY ADAMYK: From the tax cuts or from our foreign policy, I think people are going to realize that the nation needs to give Trump another four more years to prove to us that he can fulfill all the promises that he promised in 2016.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just have to say, tax cuts and foreign policy, you say those words outside of CPAC and those aren't things that really most people would say are the successes of this administration.

MONTANARO: Yeah, definitely not. I mean, I think that a lot of people there want to also see the wall built. They like his views on immigration. It's frankly about culture, and President Trump is somebody who's able to capture for them and speak to them in a way that no other president has.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, let's talk about the Democratic side. There's more than a dozen candidates who've already announced. A new House majority is making plenty of problems for Trump. How is that being received?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, a lot of talk about socialism, frankly. And that's not something you really heard a lot at past CPACs. But now that's become the big boogeyman. President Trump's approval rating is middling in the low 40 percentage-point range. He needs to be able to pull Democrats down. And socialism has become the new thing to whack Democrats with. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, for example, was on stage. And here's some of what he had to say.


LARRY KUDLOW: Join us to keep America great. And join us to put socialism on trial and then convict it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Conservatives were, not that long ago, sharply divided over Donald Trump. A lot of previous CPAC attendees expressed suspicions that he wasn't really a conservative. And Trump even snubbed CPAC in 2016, as he was running for president. Are there any lingering doubts?

MONTANARO: No, I mean, there are some people who had some lingering doubts about the debt. They don't necessarily love the idea of a precedent being set on a national emergency. But it was pretty stunning to hear so much talk of abortion. And President Trump has had his own mixed record on abortion, formerly being in support of abortion rights. Penny Nance from the Concerned Women for America was on stage and had this to say about him.


PENNY NANCE: I am so grateful that we have the most pro-life president in my lifetime. Thank you, Donald - Donald J. Trump.


MONTANARO: I mean, my ears really perked up on that one because most pro-life in my lifetime, you know, hearing that, it really shows you how much they've really gotten behind President Trump now, someone who was not welcomed at CPAC and has now really gotten them all on board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.