Not surprisingly, he owned the place. It’s an amazing turnaround from when he was a sideshow or a controversial presence. It was a characteristic Trump performance–bizarrely mesmerizing, amusingly candid (I’m thinking of the beginning when he said he realized that politics was for him when he first spoke at CPAC and got a big reaction without preparing), at times indefensible, roguishly funny, over the top, overwhelmingly concerned with his signature themes and issues, and quite effective.
He didn’t have to trim or tailor his message to suit CPAC conservatism, because at the moment Trumpism is CPAC conservatism.
I’m not as bothered by his nationalism as some of my colleagues (conservative crowds chanted “USA” prior to the rise of Donald Trump). And it remains to be seen how distinct Trump’s program will end up being.
Already his infrastructure program, which might have been a major declaration of ideological independence at the outset of his administration, has been put off to the second year when often things don’t happen at all. Trade policy will be telling and at this juncture it’s impossible to know how aggressive the administration will be. It could be that we will initiate a trade war that upsets the international trading order as we know it. It could be, on the other hand, that the most important policy departure ends up being a Paul Ryan-crafted border adjustment tax (although its chances of passage in the Senate may be dicey even if Trump gets behind it).
The rest of the agenda in Congress is Obamacare repeal, tax reform, and de-regulation, or what you would expect from any GOP president. Trump certainly sounds different than any other Republican, but we won’t know for a while whether this ends up being a gloss on a relatively conventional GOP program or heralds the radical departure it is sometimes advertised as.