OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s top aides on Thursday delivered one overriding message to the thousands of conservative activists gathered for their annual conference outside of Washington: Don’t blow it.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and other senior Trump officials implored the audience not to squander the Republican Party’s control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.
“What you’ve got is an incredible opportunity to use this victory,” Priebus said. Some of Trump’s plans for creating jobs and putting more money in people’s pockets will take time, he said. “We’ve got to stick together and make sure we have President Trump for eight years.”
Priebus’ pleas for patience and unity acknowledged the conservatives’ underlying skepticism about the new president, a former Democrat who in the past has elicited boos at the conference. Trump has often suggested he doesn’t prioritize the social issues many conservatives elevate, and his proposal for a massive infrastructure bill has cast doubts about his commitment to curb government spending.
But with a Republican in the White House for the first time in eight years, many activists say they feel energized and more than willing to give him a chance.
The decades-old CPAC, as the event is known, is now really more like “TPAC,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said.
She and other Trump administration speakers thanked conservatives for voting for Trump last fall. His chief strategist Steve Bannon said appreciation would largely be the theme of the president’s remarks Friday to the group. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak Thursday night.
Many in the audience chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as Bannon and Priebus made a joint appearance on stage. The duo’s chummy joint interview seemed designed to refute media reports that they do not get along and are occasionally working at cross-purposes in a factionalized White House.
Priebus presented their partnership as evidence that conservatives and Trump supporters can work together.
“The truth of the matter is Donald Trump, President Trump, brought together the party and the conservative movement,” he said. “If the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can’t be stopped.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged the activists to “engage” and “be loud” in the face of politicians who stand in the way of changing the education system.
“We have a unique window of opportunity to make school choice a reality” for millions for families, she said.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said last fall’s election results provide “an assignment for change and real reform.”
“So we need to see a repeal and replacement of Obamacare, we need to see real tax reform,” he said. “We need to see a federal government that gets its spending under control.”
“As governors, as activists, engaged citizens, we need to hold all elected leaders accountable for results in this cycle right now. We may not get this same opportunity again. We can’t squander it.”
Although Republicans have long vowed to overturn President Barack Obama’s health care law, the election of Trump and majorities in Congress now have a chance to do it.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said activists must maintain pressure on the people they’ve elected.
“Fellow conservatives, this is our time,” he said. “We must and we can repeal Obamacare now.”