Trump returns to usual style at CPAC with boastful and divisive speech
The president abandoned the sombre stance of this week and hurled insults, told jokes and bragged about the best start to any presidency
Donald Trump returned to his part-demagogue, part-standup comedian self on Friday when he addressed grassroots conservative activists outside Washington, effectively tearing up a scripted speech he called a little boring.
The US president abandoned the sombre self-control of this weeks listening sessions on school shootings and spent more than an hour hurling insults, telling jokes and zigzagging through what he claimed is the best start to any White House tenure.
He gave his strongest endorsement yet of the idea of arming teachers, warned that legislation protecting some undocumented migrants could collapse and read out a poem called The Snake, familiar from his campaign rallies.
He fired up the crowd by running though a checklist of familiar foes: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain (I dont want to be controversial so I wont use his name), China, Mexico, workshy migrants, violent gangs and horrible people in the media.
And as a sort of PS, in the final minute of the address to Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he announced Americas biggest ever package of sanctions against North Korea.
But first, the most powerful man in the world looked up at the live feed of himself on a giant screen and mused: What a nice picture that is. Id love to watch that guy speak. He then turned his back to the audience and patted his fingers on the back of his hair. I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. I work hard at it.
The crowd erupted in laughter and applause but for those who fear Trumps authoritarian tendencies, the humour will have rung hollow. Soon after, a lone protester was escorted out by security as the audience, many wearing Make America great again hats, booed and jeered and chanted: USA! USA!
Trump wisecracked: They were very gentle. He was very obnoxious.
The president rattled through achievements including the appointment of federal judges, cutting taxes and pulling out of the wealth knocking out Paris climate deal.
My administration, I think has had the most successful first year in the history of the presidency, he said. I really believe that. I mean judges, regulations, everything.
But his address came at the end of a week that included meetings with students, teachers and state and local officials examining ways to boost school safety and address gun violence. The evil massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school last week had broken our hearts, he said.
It became clear that his resolve to arm teachers has hardened.
When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones it just puts our students in far more danger, he said. Well-trained gun-adept teachers and coaches and people that work in those buildings. I dont want to have a hundred guards standing with rifles all over the school. You do a conceal carry permit.
And this would be a major deterrent because these people are inherently cowards. If this guy thought other people would have been firing bullets back at him, he wouldnt have gone to that school.
Officials announced on Thursday that deputy Scott Peterson never went inside to engage the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while the shooting was happening. Peterson has resigned.
Trump said: He didnt turn out to be too good, I tell you that. He turned out to be not good. He was not a credit to law enforcement, that I can tell you He was tested under fire and it wasnt a good result.
He continued: Id rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that doesnt know anybody and doesnt know the students and, frankly, for whatever reason, decided not go in even though he heard lots of shots being fired inside
A teacher would have shot the hell out of [the gunman] before he knew what happened.
Trump also pledged tougher background checks on gun purchases and measures to prevent people with mental health problems accessing weapons. The applause was less enthusiastic.
He also urged his audience to get get off their ass and clobber Democrats in the midterm elections.
If they get in, he said, they will repeal your tax cuts, they will put judges in that you wouldnt believe, theyll take away your second amendment, which we will never allow to happen.
In a moment of vaudeville, he surveyed the audience on whether tax cuts or the second amendment was more important: the right to bear arms got by far the bigger cheer.
The president also blamed Democrats for a lack of progress on saving a programme that defers deportation for migrants brought to the US illegally as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).
They dont even talk to me about it, he said, theyve totally abandoned it. We want to do something about Daca, get it solved after all these years. The Democrats have been totally unresponsive. They dont want to do anything about Daca. Its very possible Daca wont happen, its not because of Republicans, its because of Democrats.
The election took place in 2016 but at times it was as if Trump is still campaigning. He took swipes at a very crooked media, we had a crooked candidate, too, by the way, referencing Democratic rival Clinton. The crowd chanted, Lock her up! Lock her up! a regular refrain at Trump campaign rallies.
The president chimed in: Boy, have they committed a lot of atrocities.
It was, in short, Trump cutting loose: bragging, irreverent and bitterly divisive. Weve got seven years to go, folks, he said. The crowd, including many standing at the back, lapped it up.
But the Republican strategist Steve Schmidt tweeted: This speech at CPAC is demagogic, vapid, intellectually dishonest and just plain old fashioned idiotic. If someone delivered this speech from the end of a bar most people would think that person was an imbecile.