By John Wagner
President Donald Trump declared himself among friends as he began speaking Friday at an annual gathering of conservative activists and told the crowd that he would serve them well.
“Now you finally have a president, finally,” Trump said, shortly after taking stage to Lee Greenwood’s “Good Bless the U.S.A.” “It took you a long time.”
With his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Maryland, Trump became the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to address the group during his first year in office.
Trump noted that he had appeared at the conference several times before and pledged to return often.
“I love this place, love you people, so thank you,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to my friends. These are my friends.”
Trump’s speech followed several well-received appearances at the four-day gathering by senior members of his administration, including a speech Thursday night by Vice President Pence.
Trump used the opening of his remarks to again denounce the media, saying many stories about his administration are “fake news” with stories that rely on anonymous sources. Trump pointed to a Washington Post story this month that cited nine current and former intelligence sources who said Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed U.S. economic sanctions on Russia with that country’s ambassador before Trump took office.
Trump said he didn’t believe there were nine sources. “They make up sources. They are very dishonest people,” Trump said. The Post’s stories helped lead to Flynn’s resignation after further disclosures that he had misled administration officials, including Vice President Pence, over the nature of his conversations.
“We are fighting the fake news,” Trump said. “It’s fake, phony, fake.”
Through Trump won election as more of a populist than a traditional conservative, his fledgling administration has given conservatives plenty to cheer, including many Cabinet selections and Trump’s pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pursue sweeping tax reform.
During his speech, he called his victory “a win for conservative values.”
The speech marked the fifth time Trump has addressed the conference hosted by the American Conservative Union, which is showcasing how he has pushed the Republican Party and the conservative movement toward an “America first” nationalism that has long existed on the fringes.
Trump’s first appearance in 2011 offered clues to his political ambitions.
“America today is missing quality leadership, and foreign countries have quickly realized this,” he said six years ago.
“[The] theory of a very successful person running for office is rarely tested because most successful people don’t want to be scrutinized or abused,” he said. “This is the kind of person that the country needs and we need it now.”
In a speech Thursday night, Pence touted the Trump administration’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, declaring “America’s Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”
Earlier in the day, Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, made a joint appearance. They declared that, contrary to some press reports, they are working hand in hand toward what Bannon described as an unending battle for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was also part of the program. During a morning session Thursday, Conway, the first woman to run a successful U.S. presidential campaign, made headlines by saying that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist “in a classic sense” because the term is associated with being “anti-male” and “pro-abortion.”