We Really Didn’t Want To Cover The Annual Conservative Jamboree Known As CPAC, And The President’s Speech There.
Which is why we’re reporting on it 5 days after it happened. Because we figured it would all just be “more of the same”. Which, frankly is the whole point of the prep-rally-like event. And it was: obsession with the crowd size at his inauguration, making fun of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, complete with putting on a Southern accent (lending credence to a story in Bob Woodward’s book Trump had derided as “phony” about ridiculing Sessions and calling him a “dumb Southerner”), etc. But on steroids.
Trump gave what was objectively one of his most emboldened/unhinged performances ever, a 2-hour plus mostly contemporaneous speech.
Still, a couple of things keep nagging us about that CPAC speech. Because the more we think about it the more we feel it answers some questions we’ve been raising, while raising others we hadn’t even though of. So here we are…
A couple of weeks ago we ended a column with the following assertion, and question:
“A lot of people voted for Trump in the hope he’d shake up a gridlocked and ineffectual Washington. He has. Now there’s only one overarching question as far as we’re concerned: how much crazy is Congress and the American people willing to put up with?”
And the President and Republicans’ performance at CPAC and in relation to his “national emergency” declaration, are starting to yield some real clear answers to that.
One of the most telling comments might’ve come from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. He’s up for election in 2020 in a state with a fast-changing voter demographic, although probably not as fast as earnest Democrats would like to believe. Cornyn’s not a “natural” Trump supporter: he’s extremely closely aligned with the Koch brothers, who while no heroes themselves, envision an entirely different sort of disruption than the President is delivering, opposing him on everything from tariffs to keeping immigrants out (who they need to work, reliably, for low pay in many of their chemical plants and other far-flung operations). So much so they’ve said—so far—they won’t be directly devoting financial resources to re-elect Trump in 2020 (although they have done plenty to indirectly support him like throwing millions at a public campaign to get his most recent Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, seated). And yet, Cornyn said this to the Washington Post:
“We’re not going to turn on our own and make the Democrats happy.”
And that’s just it: There’s an old saying: “the trend is your friend”. If the President enjoys ridiculously huge approval ratings among Republican voters, why fight it? Why not jump on that bandwagon? One answer might be because the President is trying to usurp the power given to Congress by the Constitution and doing an end-run around them after they wouldn’t give him what he demanded. But if they don’t go along with that, the result is a high percentage chance they lose a huge chunk of their support. (Otherwise known as the chunk that’s Trump’s base). So even if a Congressperson has the true courage and fortitude to launch even a teensy-little challenge because they feel it’s the right thing to do, even if their internal polling shows their path to hanging on to their seat if they do that is slim (and let’s face it: most politicians—on both sides of the aisle—do not have that courage), Trump’s still giving them more of what they and their voters want than what they don’t. So they desensitize themselves to the most sickening parts of his rhetoric and actions, and accept a diminution of their power vs. the Prez because he’s the best path they got of keeping their job, and preventing either a real “nut case” reactionary from replacing them, who really doesn’t care if there’s a dictator in the Oval Office. Or worse, a Democrat.
And there were a few jabs Trump snuck into his speech that deserve some attention. One demonstrates how deeply he really doesn’t get it when it comes to simple matters of compassion. The other he seems to be prepping as a future campaign talking point (or will be). And that one could easily put political opponents in threat of real physical danger.
First: Trump’s reaction to Otto Warmbier’s parents’ reaction to Trump’s assertion that North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un: “tells me he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word”. What Trump was referring to was the severe treatment of the American student while in North Korean custody, which ultimately led to his death. The Warmbier family has been close to Trump, and supportive. But after that statement from Trump, they understandably did not mince words:
“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuse or lavish praise can change that.”
They’re right. No country in the world is more micro-managed from the top than North Korea. If there was an American in custody, Kim knew about it.
Trump made an effort to mitigate his statement in a couple of Tweets in which he said he was “misinterpreted”. Except he said exactly what we quoted him as saying. And if you click here, you can see and hear him saying exactly that.
And Trump again cast himself as being a bit of a victim in his CPAC speech remarks on the subject:
“I’m in such a horrible position. Because in one way, I have to negotiate. In the other way, I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier. And I love Otto.”
Here’s that clip. (Click on the photo to watch):
No. You can negotiate with someone without praising them to the stars about everything they did or didn’t do (or know). Or without absolving them of every sin they pretty clearly committed. Or maybe that is the way you have to come at Trump in a negotiation, so he thinks that’s how he has to approach everybody else.
The second thing that struck us is Trump’s assertion that there are people in Congress who “hate America”. Nothing really new about that, except he adds something on this time around. Something that we think you’ll be hearing a lot more of as we head toward 2020:
“Right now, we have people in Congress that hate our country….And we can name every one of them if they want….It’s very sad….And find out: how did they do in their country? As them….Did they do well? Were they succeeding? Just ask that question. Somebody would say ‘Oh, that’s terrible that he brings that up’. But that’s O.K. I don’t mind. I’ll bring that up. How did they do in their country? Not so good.“
And here’s that clip (click on the photo to watch):
Now, some Washington reporters immediately decided even though he doesn’t name names, it’s pretty clear Trump must be referring to Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia. But we’re not so sure it stops there. Look at Trump’s choice of wording: “we have people in Congress that hate our country….And we can name every one of them if they want.” Meaning in his view it’s a lot more than one. We don’t know what’s going through Trump’s mind obviously, especially when he’s speaking off-the-cuff, but we think there’s a decent chance he’s referring to a lot of the POC, a lot of them women, with “non-American sounding” names who rode into the House recently on the wave of Democratic victories in the Midterms.
This tees up what we think will be a theme for Trump in upcoming rallies: not only are viscous, criminal foreigners flooding over our borders, some of them are already among us, and have already infiltrated some of the highest offices in the land, with their non-American ways, and evil on their minds. This is not only reckless, but it potentially puts these politicians in very real danger.