President Donald Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday–but it sounded more like a 2016 campaign rally as Republicans gear up for what is expected to be a close 2018 midterm election.
Trump’s CPAC speech on Friday had all the hallmarks of a 2016 presidential campaign rally. There were “build that wall” and “lock her up” chants, he bashed immigration policies, he mocked a protester, ad-libbed lines, and even read the “Snake song” a poem about immigration was a fixture on the campaign trail.
It was like stepping back in time to a Trump rally two years ago. It was also Trump’s first stump speech for Republicans heading into the midterms later this year.
Near the beginning of Trump’s speech, which went well over the time CPAC allotted for him, the president tried to explain why the sitting president’s party typically loses seats in Congress during midterm elections.
“I know that whoever wins the presidency has a disadvantage, for whatever reason, in the midterms,” Trump said, waving his arms. “You know what happens, I’m trying to figure it out, because historically if you win the presidency, you don’t do well two years later. And you know what, we can’t let that happen. I know what happens—they finally figured it out—nobody’s been able to explain it. It just happens.”
“You know, you’re sitting back, you’re watching television, ‘ah, maybe I don’t have to vote today we just won the presidency.’ And then we get clobbered and we can’t let that happen. We get clobbered in ’18 and we can’t let that happen. Only because we are so happy, we passed so many things.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 23, 2018
In order to rile up the conservative crowd, Trump reached back into his 2016 campaign pocket numerous times to ignite a spark of “enthusiasm” among Republicans to stave off a wave of Democrats being elected later this year.
Here are just a few examples of the classic-2016 rhetoric Trump used during his CPAC speech to fire up the crowd:
- Throughout the speech, Trump brought up his plan to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, a major campaign promise–eliciting a “build that wall!” chant.
- He talked about the “crooked media” and “crooked candidate,” referencing his nickname for Hillary Clinton, which brought up a several-seconds long “Lock Her Up!” chant that was punctuated by someone in the crowd shouting “you said you would!” at the president.
- Trump at one point said he wanted to go off-script because his written speech was “a little boring,” hearkening back to his free-wheeling campaign rallies in 2016.
- He criticized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for his healthcare vote, energizing the crowd. Trump attacked his political opponents numerous times during his campaign, including McCain.
- On immigration, Trump said: “you think they’re giving us their good people?… They’re not giving us their best people,” which is remarkably similar to Trump’s very first presidential campaign speech where he said Mexico was “not sending their best…they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
- Continuing on immigration, the president read the “Snake song” after allegedly being asked by “people outside” to read it. The poem was recited by then-candidate Trump numerous times on the campaign trail as a way to back up his argument of keeping some immigrants out of the United States. The song is about a woman finding a snake, taking it home, and being bitten by it later.
Trump is keenly aware of the polls that show Democrats ahead in generic congressional ballots, and knowing a Democratic wave in the Senate and House of Representatives would derail his agenda for the two remaining years, he’s going back to the playbook that worked so unexpectedly once before.
What’s not clear is if that same old message is the right play for a country roiling from his presidency.