Trump At CPAC: While Conservatives Embrace New Leader, Trump's Team Compares New President To Reagan Conservatives embraced their new leader at their pre-eminent annual gathering. Meanwhile, Trump's team was quick to draw comparisons between the new president and CPAC's longtime hero, Ronald Reagan.
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Trump And CPAC: A Complicated Relationship No More

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Trump And CPAC: A Complicated Relationship No More

Trump And CPAC: A Complicated Relationship No More

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Donald Trump can make conservatives nervous. They tend to like his Supreme Court nominee and his Cabinet choices. They can be wary of him when it comes to trade, the military and social issues. Yesterday, conservative speakers compared Trump with the movement's greatest hero. And President Trump made his case at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Every year at this time, CPAC is ground zero for the conservative movement. Walk the exhibit hall to collect souvenir hats or maybe socks with slogans in sparkly letters that say things like CPAC and chill or...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Fox News and chill, C-SPAN and chill.

GONYEA: C-SPAN and chill?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think that's my favorite.

GONYEA: But the big draw this week was the main ball room upstairs, three days of speeches by conservative leaders, activists, TV and radio personalities, and by several top Trump administration officials. Among them, Vice President Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You know, from the outset, our president reminded me of somebody else, a man who inspired me to actually join the cause of conservatism nearly 40 years ago - President Ronald Reagan.

GONYEA: The vice president was one of a number of people who made that comparison from the stage. There was this from the American Conservative Union's Matt Schlapp, the organizer of the conference.

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MATT SCHLAPP: You know the last time a president of United States came to CPAC in his first year? Ronald Reagan in 1981. Our president, Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.")

LEE GREENWOOD: (Singing) I'm proud to be an American...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Great to be back at CPAC.

GONYEA: Trump is back at CPAC. But he did skip last year's event during the primaries, when this crowd preferred candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Trump's speech yesterday was another version of last year's campaign speeches. And the CPAC audience was fully on board, chanting at various points build the wall or U-S-A.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.

GONYEA: Right at the top of Trump's speech came the familiar media critique.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.

GONYEA: And through it all, the theme that he meant what he said on the campaign trail, and that those promises will be carried out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Global cooperation, dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries is good. It's very important. But there is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I'm representing.

GONYEA: And on those comparisons to Ronald Reagan, many CPAC attendees do see similarities in Trump's view of America's great days ahead, if not on the role of the U.S. in the world or on things like international trade. But ask them if they consider Trump a real conservative, and answers like this are common.

MATT LONGENACKER: He's not, no. I don't think so, not in the traditional sense.

GONYEA: That's college student Matt Longenacker from Lancaster, Pa., who worries Trump will make government bigger. Still, he voted for and likes the president.

LONGENACKER: But sometimes it takes somebody who isn't willing to play by the rules to get the job done. And right now, that's how - I tend to agree with him in that sense.

GONYEA: Then there's 49-year-old Cheryl Posavac of Philadelphia. I asked her if Trump is a true conservative. She answers that that's the big question.

CHERYL POSAVAC: I would say yes. You know, we get into the shades of conservatism. I see him towards the libertarian side. He's a true believer in America and the Constitution. I don't think we've seen that in a while, somebody very much championing that.

GONYEA: What you hear at CPAC are conservative voters finding the things they like about President Trump, even if they were skeptics about candidate Trump. And if the CPAC crowd has never been a natural fit for him, these activists do know that supporting Trump and working with him can get them a lot of what they want over the next four years. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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