Donald Trump’s CPAC speech showcased all of the qualities that have powered his anti-establishment appeal since his entry into politics. His remarks were bold, provocative, and genuine.
The Queens native offered up his usual mix of absurd gags and culture war red meat, but his focus was on the “America First” agenda that got him elected in 2016.
Indeed, the dominant subject of Trump’s remarks was foreign policy. On that front, Trump was glad to tout being the first president in generations to start no new wars. He pledged to quickly end Ukraine’s war with Russia. He offered up a blunt assessment of America’s tragic adventure in Afghanistan, whose army, he said, had to be “basically bribed” to fight for the Western-backed regime. He spoke from the heart about the American casualties of the conflict, demonstrating his inimitable common touch. “They lost their arms, they lost their legs, they had their face blown off, and they were absolutely destroyed. And they don’t talk about that,” he said.
The president who was constantly slandered as a Putin puppet also recapitulated his attacks on the “delinquent” NATO alliance. Ukraine’s victory is “far more important” to Europe “than it is to us,” he said.
On the home front, Trump vowed to bomb the Mexican drug cartels to smithereens and called for an urban beautification campaign, with Western-style architecture. He called for financial incentives for a new “baby boom” and a massive increase in ICE and border patrol officers to complete the long overdue task of deporting the millions of illegal foreigners living in the interior.
He called for all Republican governors to clean up America’s deeply degraded elections by restricting voting to one day with paper ballots, a challenge to those on the Right who have made peace with Third World-style post-pandemic elections.
In what was arguably the most powerful moment of the speech, Trump repudiated the neoconservative establishment that has controlled the Republican Party for decades.
“We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open border zealots, and fools, but we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, and Jeb Bush,” Trump said.
It was a sly shot at Ron DeSantis, of course, but the broader message was clear: Trump is not another empty suit who can be bought.
“At the end of the day anyone else will be intimidated, bought off, blackmailed, or ripped to shreds,” he said.
It’s a potent argument, especially as the big Republican donors and media turn on Trump with a vengeance. The Republican bigwigs have all flocked to DeSantis, who has shown every indication of running for president (including a book tour) while holding up a smirking pretense that he is focused on his current job.
The cagey and self-satisfied tone of the governor’s recent comments have begun to vindicate Trump’s “DeSanctimonious” label, widely dismissed as a desperate attack. To the contrary, it’s looking to be the latest stroke of branding genius from the New York street fighter who gave us “laptop from hell” and “low energy Jeb Bush.”
As always, Trump’s authenticity remains his greatest strength. He made no attempt Saturday to disguise the pile of grievances he has accumulated since he left his life of “luxury” behind. Trump recounted the tribulations that he and his supporters have suffered at the hands of the “deep state,” and vowed to get even, labeling himself, in a thick Queens accent, the “warrior” of the aggrieved patriot.
“I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,” Trump said.
Skeptics of Trump’s “baggage” fail to understand his enduring appeal. The Republican base sees in his complaints the sincere anger of someone who has suffered much on their behalf. Slick imitators received a warning Saturday that nobody can articulate Trump’s starkly nationalist vision more convincingly than the man himself.