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Conservatives rally behind Trump administration during CPAC

February 25, 2017 at 4:40 PM EDT
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference came to an end on Saturday outside Washington, D.C. CPAC hosted a number of prominent Republicans, from President Donald Trump touting his conservative credentials to his adviser Steve Bannon, who talked about “deconstructing the administrative state.” For more on CPAC, Reuters political reporter Andy Sullivan joins Hari Sreenivasan.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Today marked the end of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, outside Washington. CPAC saw a who’s who of Republicans, from President Trump touting his conservative credentials, to his adviser Steve Bannon, who talked about, quote, “deconstructing the administrative state.”

For more on CPAC, I’m joined by “Reuters” political reporter Andy Sullivan.

So, Andy, last year, they were booing then-candidate Trump. The reception this year was much better.

ANDY SULLIVAN, REUTERS POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I think it’s safe to say it was rapturous this year. He got several standing ovations, plenty of those red “Make America Great” hats on.

And to be fair, I think conservatives have a lot to cheer about in the first month or so of Trump’s presidency. While the conversation that we’ve been writing about and other news outlets have been writing about is his ties to Russia, conflicts of interest, that sort of thing, conservatives point to the things that he’s done.

He’s nominated a conservative Supreme Court justice in Neil Gorsuch, a lot of people on his cabinets are very solid conservatives as well, these executive orders that he’s posted restricting immigration, rolling back regulations. That’s all stuff he’s campaigned on. That’s all stuff that they say that he’s delivered. They’re pretty happy so far.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is the audience that assembles at National Harbor, Maryland, for this conference, is that representative of the larger conservative base in America?

ANDY SULLIVAN: No, I think it’s safe to say that CPAC in the past few years tends to draw a younger crowd, tends to draw a crowd that’s a little more edgy, a little more towards the fringe. If you recall, Rand Paul has always been very popular there, as well as his father, Ron Paul, leaders of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Ted Cruz also was very popular there. He won the straw poll last year.

Trump isn’t really a traditional conservative. So, you would think that there would be a lot of conflicts there, that some of these people wouldn’t like what he’s doing — for example, you know, conservatives traditionally favor free trade. Trump is definitely much more of a protectionist.

People don’t seem that hung up on that. People I talk to say that’s OK, we’ll sort that stuff out. We’re looking towards the big victories and the fact that we have a Republican in the White House for the first time in eight years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It was also a rare public appearance by his adviser, Steve Bannon.

ANDY SULLIVAN: Right. Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus gave this sort of “buddy speech”, this sort of odd couple approach where they talked about despite their portrayed rivals, they’re working very hard to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises. They’re also saying, “Look, you guys need to have our backs and you need to hold us accountable to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises in the months and years to come.”

And I think that’s a real key point. It will be interesting to see CPAC next year. Trump says he’ll return. A year from now, we’ll see whether they have accomplished things like tax reform and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, those big-ticket items that they promised to do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And you also saw a relatively consistent message of the media being the opposition, something that the president has been tweeting and several of his advisers have been saying.

ANDY SULLIVAN: Right. And that’s a big unifying message for the folks in the room. You know, it’s — again, it’s not reflective of the broader conservative movement as a whole necessarily. There’s a lot of discussion about things like free speech on campus, which the younger members are encountering.

And, sure, when you attack the media, that’s something everybody on the right can get behind. They feel like their views aren’t accurately reflected. There’s this disjunction they noted earlier, where reporters and a lot of mainstream outlets are focusing on things like Trump’s ties to Russia. That’s not so much of a concern for people on the right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. “Reuters” political reporter Andrew Sullivan, thanks so much.

ANDY SULLIVAN: My pleasure.

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