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It was just so surreal watching a humbled Donald Trump take the stage at CPAC, visibly shaken by his election loss, bend the knee to Romney-Cheney Republicanism, and express his hope that the attack dogs in the press would leave him alone during his twilight years away from the public eye.
Er…nope. That doesn’t even sound believable. The only place where that establishment fantasy played out was the online fan fiction board of the Hillary Clinton–John Kasich–Ben Sasse mutual support and suffering group. Most presidents leave office looking worse for wear; six weeks after being deplatformed by the swamp, Donald Trump looks more like a wrestler getting ready to rumble.
If Washington thought it could weaken President Trump’s appeal by making him an “enemy of the state” and trashing his supporters as seditionists, it miscalculated. If anything, the D.C. mafia cemented his status as the quintessential outsider against whom all future outsiders will be compared, and it has only made the president’s in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style of political pugilism more cutting.
In his first public speech since being “Myanmared,” Trump used his opportunity at CPAC to batter Biden’s incompetence, rally conservatives to his banner, and dispose of those members in his party who still prefer electing Democrats. As he read through the list of Republicans who helped instigate a second fake impeachment with a personal promise to destroy them one by one, that unique Trump swagger was in overdrive. He sounded like a mix of Johnny Cash’s “man goin’ ’round takin’ names,” putting together a list nobody should ever want on, and Mark Wahlberg’s menacingly polite choir boy telling whiny RINOs unwelcome at CPAC to “say ‘hi’ to your mother for me” as he smiled for the cameras. If swiping his election through mail-in balloting and painting him as the leader of a terrorist group was meant to make him disappear, then there’s no doubt that removing him from office was a government-run operation. Only the government could screw up this badly. At CPAC, the Boss was back, and he didn’t look to be going anywhere.
While President Trump wove in and out of scripted points he wanted to hammer home (Ol’ Touchy-Smelly’s administration is endangering Americans by encouraging endless illegal immigration, failing to get kids back into school, appeasing China and Iran, and senselessly destroying American energy independence.) and delighted his base with the impromptu comedic flourishes that make him compelling, his ninety-minute speech at CPAC was also a conspicuous reminder that Joe Biden is nowhere to be seen, hidden away from the public, kept on ice. How is it that the former president has managed to deliver a detailed State of the Union Address — spoiler alert: the Union’s gone a little gamy since President Popsicle arrived — before the new sitting president? Does anyone enjoying the perks and privileges of power in D.C. find this strange? Because to normal folks, Trump sure looks like a president not yet finished, while Biden looks so finished that he’s not sure he’s president.
Free advice, Deep State: If you’re going to take down a sitting president who has more energy than Tom Cruise dancing on Oprah Winfrey’s sofa, then at least install a body in the Oval Office more lively than a medical cadaver. Otherwise, people start wondering how the naptime president could possibly have scored more votes than anyone else in American history, while his predecessor is still doing two hours of cardio live and onstage in Orlando before sold-out crowds.
That’s something else Washington’s bloated bureaucracy never understood about Donald Trump’s appeal to his voters: he actually enjoys having fun with ordinary people. He can tell a joke, and he can take a joke, and most of D.C.’s ruling class can’t do either. While Washington has become a militarized zone complete with barbed wire fencing and shock troops to scare the masses, there’s former president Trump laughing it up in Orlando with his friends and giving generous shout-outs to everyone in attendance. (Jim Jordan, where are you? Great wrestler, that guy!) Pelosi’s capital is a prison; DeSantis’s and Trump’s Florida is a party. Those are optics that even overpriced political operatives from the swamp can understand.
What they cannot understand is how Donald Trump is still standing and politically viable after everything D.C. has done to crush him. Framing him as a Russian asset didn’t work. Using the criminal justice system as a form of political persecution against his supporters had no effect. Not one, but two farce impeachments turned into nothing more than badges of honor. And tarring the sitting president as an insurrectionist intent on toppling Congress seems to have only made him more popular. (Go figure!) The more D.C. demonizes Trump, the more it turns him into just the kind of folk hero who is going to rattle establishment cages for generations.
CPAC made that clear. Donald Trump, the man, still looms over everything just as before, but more importantly, Donald Trump’s issues loom over everything, too. Establishment Republicans might not care about border security, but Republican voters most certainly do. Establishment Republicans might still prefer Wall Street bankers in wingtips, but there’s no doubt that the Republican Party’s future belongs to working-class voters in Red Wings. And while too many Establishment Republicans would still rather send American troops abroad than bring American manufacturing back home, it is certain that Trump’s new Republican Party has become a home for Main Street patriots with Main Street concerns.
How is it that D.C. can’t succeed in destroying Donald Trump’s influence? Partially, it’s because the president actually listened to the concerns of ordinary Americans and made their problems his problems. Before government officials became nothing more than paid beneficiaries of lobbyists and foreign interests, this was considered normal politicking. Because the ruling class has abandoned and betrayed ordinary Americans for so many decades, though, Donald Trump made it look revolutionary. And now the next wave of Republicans, including Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem, is following in his footsteps. Listening to the people — what a concept!
Establishment Republicans refused to understand why ordinary voters overwhelmingly chose “outsider” candidates such as Trump. They refused to understand President Trump’s popularity as anything other than a “cult of personality” that would wither away with his presidency. If the president put one thing to bed at CPAC, though, it was this: Old Guard Republicans can either become part of the change that is transforming the Republican Party or get steamrolled on their way to irrelevancy. Either way, it’s Trump’s party from here on out.