The big surprise guest of CPAC’s first afternoon was Donald Trump, who told the crowd he will make his final decision on a presidential run by June. It sounds like he doesn’t think he can do it without the CPAC crowd on his side. He gave a pretty good sales pitch.
The most remarkable thing about watching Trump handle a crowd is his combination of confidence and happiness. He loves being up there, and he didn’t love it any less when the Ron Paul contingent tried to shout him down. He looked them in the eye (all of them at once – I’m not sure exactly how he does that) and told them “Ron Paul can’t get elected, I’m sorry.” They settled down a lot faster than I thought they would.
Trump is particularly concerned about the way the United States has become a “whipping post” for the rest of the world. I think he actually meant “whipping boy,” but maybe he was conscious of the New Tone of Civility and thought it would be better to talk about beating the crap out of inanimate objects. “If I run and win,” he promised, “this country will be respected again.”
“The people I deal with from China, Mexico, and other countries see us as laughing stocks,” he said, and made it clear he plans to change that. He flatly stated he would not raise taxes on Americans, but relished the thought of “taking in taxes from the countries that have been screwing us.” If that sounds a bit too protectionist for your tastes, fear not, because he is also “a fair trade believer” who “loves open markets.” But not with countries that are screwing us, I suppose. Any foreign leader who takes the prospect of a Trump presidency seriously would be well advised to stop screwing us immediately.
He singled out China and the OPEC nations for specific condemnation. “We are rebuilding China because we buy their products,” he maintained, and “we can’t compete with slave labor.” He thinks “someone must confront OPEC about gas prices.” Oh, and if any buccaneers happen to be reading this, I suggest getting into a new line of work posthaste, because Trump wants to “get a couple of good ships and blast Somali pirates out of the water.”
The Donald has absolutely no humility about his wealth or celebrity. He is proud of “fairly and intelligently making billions of dollars,” and submits that as “a scorecard of my intelligence and abilities.” He postulated that people who achieve his level of success rarely run for high office because they “don’t want to be scrutinized or abused.”
Trump returned several times to the theme of business and politics as war – conflicts that should be resolved with military discipline and cunning strategy. “I’m well acquainted with winning,” he asserted, “and that’s what this country needs right now.” We’re already used to having someone with a big ego in the Oval Office. It would be a nice change to have a President who though America was awesome, too.
In addition to his ironclad promise not to raise taxes, Trump also declared himself to be pro-life, and vowed to repeal ObamaCare. He believes his job as President would be to “support people in business and not bankrupt the country.”
I’m instinctively leery of outsider populists who want to run as the sane version of Ross Perot, but Trump had a solid chemistry with the CPAC audience. If he was pandering, he’s really good at it. I’m curious to know if he said the same things to the Blue Dog Democrats he met with last week. If so, they’re probably here at CPAC somewhere. I should probably go find them and give them welcome bags.