Conservatives gather to praise Trump, bury differences

BALTIMORE, MD – Conservatives are all smiles this week at an annual convention in Washington, celebrating President Donald Trump’s win, and working to set a course for how Republicans will govern in the next two years and the 2018 election outlook.At the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will drop by to help fire up an estimated 10,000 activists in attendance. Known as CPAC, the event is being held at a new MGM resort and casino located in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. Just a month into his presidency, Trump is already being compared by some conservatives to their icon President Ronald Reagan, who swept to power in 1981 with a small-government, free-trade, tax-cutting agenda that energized the Republican right-wing and molded the views of many of the CPAC faithful.Trump so far has been “pitch-perfect with conservatives as he starts his administration,” said Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.Even so, some conservatives, including some at CPAC, are nervously watching Trump.Among other views, some worry that Trump has proposed a major expansion of government to police immigration. He has already canceled a trade deal with Asia-Pacific neighbors and he has sharply criticized the NAFTA agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.”I always worry any discussion about trade competition and tariffs … misdirects the focus,” said CPAC stalwart Grover Norquist, a powerful advocate of low taxes and small government.On taxes, Trump has backed cuts in rates, but his position on a Republican tax package under debate in Congress is unclear.”Damn near the entire conservative wish list on tax policy is in his (Trump’s) tax reforms,” Norquist said.Among the goals of the conference is for Republicans and Trump to come to terms over such issues, which may help determine how much real change they can effect in Washington, and how the voters treat them in two years in the mid-term elections.Some Republicans have expressed disappointment that Trump has not moved faster on tax reform and on repealing Obamacare, the healthcare system put in place by his Democratic President Barack Obama. Trump has not yet publicly proposed legislation of any kind.Schlapp credited Trump with naming the most conservative Cabinet in a half-century and nominating a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who has conservatives’ blessings.Trump has also thrilled conservatives by working hand-in-glove with congressional Republicans on overturning a handful of Obama-era regulations, including one on coal companies.Such regulatory rollbacks and talk of tax cuts have boosted financial markets, too, which have rallied since Trump’s win.CPAC organizers are trying to steer clear of controversy over the alt-right movement, a loose grouping that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites who supported Trump’s election.”We don’t think there’s any role for the alt-right in the conservative movement,” Schlapp said in a phone interview.Even Republican moderates, represented by the Republican Main Street Partnership, are offering approval and support of Trump’s first month in office.”No one is unhappy with what he’s doing,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president of the group with around 80 members of Congress. She noted Pence has extended a hand to moderates, knowing they are needed to get major legislation passed.Chamberlain did say that Trump’s personality and early White House missteps have “taken up all the oxygen.”Nevertheless, she was optimistic, saying Trump is moving beyond initial stumbles and “seems to be coming into his own.”