NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — President Trump received a hero’s welcome on Friday during his first appearance as president at the country’s largest gathering of conservative activists, declaring his movement is “the future of the Republican Party.”
In a sprawling, 48-minute address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump promised to follow through on his nationalist agenda while tossing out red meat to his supporters by escalating his attacks on the news media and his felled Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“Now you finally have a president, finally. Took you a long time,” Trump told the cheering crowd after taking the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
“It’s patriots like you that made it happen, believe me.”
It was a moment that appeared impossible just one year ago, when Trump skipped the annual conservative confab as he came under fire from establishment Republicans for his controversial statements and breaks with conservative orthodoxy.
Just weeks before last year’s CPAC, the conservative National Review mounted a last-ditch effort to halt the business mogul’s campaign by publishing a special issue opposing him. The cover read “Against Trump.”
“I would have come last year but I was worried I’d be, at the time, too controversial,” Trump said, citing his stances on issues like immigration. “And people considered that controversial, but you didn’t consider that controversial.”
Trump became the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to address CPAC in his first year in office. And he told the rallygoers he would be back next year.