President Trump spoke for about an hour at CPAC on Friday. There had been a lot of speculation about his reception – he polled 15% at last year’s CPAC, as I recall – and the cremation heat of the Trump / Never Trump conflagration seems to be dying down to the embers.
Here was a unique opportunity: speaking to a fired-up crowd giddy with the elation of a win after all these horrible, year-after-year litanies of decline and destruction by President Obama.
Trump came out to thunderous applause. He may have polled 15% here last year, but this year he got 100% of the room and it was an electric moment for those of us who have been fighting a rear-guard action these last two terms. Here, at last, was a chance to go on the offensive; a chance to tell the base what is happening, why, and what they can do to help him.
Credibility is an expensive character trait. I’m not speaking of President Trump now, but rather of myself. I wanted to like that speech very much. But I thought President Trump was terrible today; I personally have never seen him worse. The speech sounded like something from last year, and I mean July of last year. I didn’t hear anything new and it seems like he said nothing new three times.
I have done something like two hundred live speaking events, and while half of those performances were below average, I nevertheless know what it looks and sounds like to phone one in, and I thought Donald Trump had a golden opportunity today that he simply missed. I was really quite disappointed.
But hey. Maybe the man was off because he was exhausted. He’s done more actual work in a month than Obama did in eight years. As a matter of fact, maybe I am the one who was exhausted; I’d just done five hours of live commentary for two consecutive days on hamster rations of sleep and the people I spoke to after the event thought he was terrific.
But I have seen him terrific, and this was not one of those times. But here’s the thing that probably makes my carping about a speech pretty much moot.
At this time last year, CPAC had the feel of a hospital visit to a terminally ill patient… something bad was going to happen and you could see it coming and there didn’t seem much to be able to do about it except grit your teeth and try to soldier on. Ultimately, the rift between the Trump / Never Trump wings of the formerly deceased and now all-powerful Republican party was not, and was never, going to be bridged by rhetoric. It was going to be settled by actions.
Before the election, the question for those of us with serious doubts about this man came down to, basically, this: was Trump a closet Democrat who was pulling a fast one on Republicans? Or were comments like putting his sister on the Supreme Court a kind of media-baiting political genius? Or both. Or neither?
Well, we don’t have to speculate any more. There is actual data now, and those data points are marked PENCE, TILLERSON, MATTIS, SESSIONS, ACOSTA, CARSON, PERRY, DeVOS, KELLY, COATS, HALEY, POMPEO, PRUITT and McMASTER. If you had told me that if Trump were elected we would get only Mattis, or DeVos, or Gorsuch then that would have been good enough for me. To get all of them (thanks Harry Reid!), each of them strong, no-nonsense personalities and not obsequious political lapdogs, is beyond my wildest imaginings. And when it is said and done, the man who has often fallen so short rhetorically has made a spectacular declaration of nominees that will be echoing through this nation’s history long, long after the lights went out in the main ballroom at the Gaylord Hotel on Friday, February 24, 2017.