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Rose Report: Guns Blazing at CPAC

Binyamin Rose

Trump crowns himself the true conservative. Special coverage from the CPAC convention

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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ight Makes Right

The Potomac River along Maryland’s National Harbor was as calm as a sheet of glass, despite a forecast for heavy rains. But it was certainly stormy indoors, as 5,000 Republican activists converged at a swank shoreline resort for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Sprawled out over three levels at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, delegates and exhibitors planted their flags firmly with the conservative movement and religious right. While mainstream conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution held sway, there was competition from new niche outfits, including the “Chosen Generation,” whose tagline is “everything is filtered through biblical glasses,” and a group called “Inconvenient Facts: the science that Al Gore doesn’t want you to know.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA) commandeered a corner booth on the conference level to ensure passersby remained in their sights whether they were coming or going. Following the murderous gun violence that felled 17 students at a Florida high school two weeks ago, the gun lobby is under unprecedented attack. Even this normally supportive crowd was wary, rationing only a smattering of polite applause during a lengthy address by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who blamed liberal Washington elites for failing to protect the nation’s schools.

Both the message and the tone at the four-day conference were combative and undiluted. The conference’s breakout sessions, which included training for the younger generation of conservative political advocates, who will spread CPAC’s message in their hometowns and on campus, was appropriately named “activism boot camp.”

In short, this wasn’t a place where Bernie Sanders or Nancy Pelosi would have felt comfortable.

CPAC is the lobbying arm of the American Conservative Union (ACU), founded in 1964, just as President Johnson was propagating a liberal Great Society agenda. Branding itself as the nation’s original conservative organization, the ACU had its heyday in the 1980s, championing President Reagan’s agenda.

Some liberal media outlets contended in last week’s coverage that CPAC has become a fringe Republican movement. The roster of speakers was heavily weighted to the Fox News, Tea Party, and House Freedom Caucus style of Republican, but the fact that both President Trump and Vice President Pence attended is an indication of CPAC’s clout. However, much attention was diverted to “warm-up acts” that raised cheers from the partisan crowd and eyebrows from detractors, including appearances by Nigel Farage, former head of the far-right UK Independence Party, and Marion Mar?chal–Le Pen, whose grandfather Jean-Marie Le Pen founded France’s far-right Front National (FN) party.

Except for conservative columnist Mona Charen — who was escorted to the exits for her own safety after being booed offstage for criticizing both Le Pen’s appearance and fellow Republicans’ hypocrisy on women’s rights — nary a bipartisan word was heard.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham issued her own call to arms, and people who would like to roll back polarization won’t be happy. Citing the deathbed quote from 19th-century black Republican Frederick Douglass to a young man seeking career advice, Ingraham said Douglass distilled it into three words: “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”

Trump's Comfort Zone

President Trump, who himself has a knack for agitating, was clearly in his element, hamming it up for the crowd.

“What a nice picture that is,” said he, as he whirled to look at himself on the huge monitor behind him showing the televised feed. “I’d love to watch that guy speak.”

Trump basked in their adulation and their chants of “USA, USA.”

“Do you remember when I started running and people would say, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’ I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative, right?” Trump said to hearty applause.

He ticked off his accomplishments, mainly tax cuts and appointing conservative judges, and noted that even where he fell short, on eradicating Obamacare, he was wiping it out piecemeal.

While expressing heartfelt concern for the Florida school massacre victims, Trump parried calls for new gun control. His most controversial plan, to arm what he called “gun-adept” teachers, is a nonstarter, but Trump raised a good point: “Why do we protect our airports, and our banks, our government buildings, but not our schools?”

Trump ticked off America’s trade deficits with China, Mexico, and even Vietnam. Even if he exaggerated the amounts, which he did on China by 33%, he warned: “Hate to say it, but if we can’t make a fair deal for the United States, we will terminate the deal and we’ll start all over again.”

Same goes for Iran. “Whoever heard you give $150 billion to a nation that has no respect for you whatsoever? They’re saying ‘Death to America’ while they’re signing the agreement. If somebody said ‘Death to America’ while I’m signing an agreement, and I’m president, I immediately say, ‘What’s going on here, folks? I’m not signing.’ ”

Trump also explained his immigration policy in a way that would have kept him out of deep trouble had he said it this way in the beginning: “I don’t want people coming into this country with a lottery, I want people coming here based on merit. We want to be admitting people who have skills, who can contribute financially, who will contribute to our economy, and who will share our values and love our country.”

Due to the length of the speech (well over an hour), and some of the theatrics in it, Trump’s most important message may have gotten lost: the need to keep the Democrats from seizing control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

“We can’t let that happen,” Trump warned. “Don’t be complacent. Because if they get in, they will repeal your health care and tax cuts and they will take away your Second Amendment, which we will never let happen.”

Spinning Wheels

One of the landmarks at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is a tall Ferris wheel that juts off a dock along the Potomac. It didn’t attract any takers in the wintry weather, but it was certainly symbolic of the spinning wheel that the two-state solution has become in the Middle East.

At one CPAC panel discussion, Jeff Ballabon, CEO of B2 Strategic, a public affairs lobbying firm, who worked behind the scenes to steer the Republican Party’s 2016 platform away from the two-state solution, questioned the whole concept.

“Why are we calling for any solutions?” asked Ballabon. “We want peace and security for Israel. Israel is our ally. Let them decide what’s best for them. Donald Trump has embraced this completely.”

Ballabon’s co-panelist Lisa Daftari — editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk news aggregation and analysis site, specializing in the Middle East and counterterrorism — contended Trump is using his talent and leverage as a negotiator to deal with adversaries and friends alike.

“Jerusalem was a good start,” Daftari said. “Maybe we can’t get the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel overnight, but at least we know Jerusalem is the true capital of the State of Israel, and that’s a great starting point.”

While Daftari’s slant offers balance to the media’s natural bias against Israel, Ballabon focuses on the political sphere.

“I’m for recognizing the reality that bipartisanship does not exist on Israel policy, and has not existed on this issue for decades, despite the real wish of Israel and the desperate pretense of establishment Jewish groups,” Ballabon says.

He contends that for Republicans, support for Israel should be positioned as one of the core values of the GOP’s and President Trump’s base. At the same time, he is working to build a true pro-Israel caucus within the Democratic National Committee with the help of some leading Jewish Democrats “who have belatedly become aware of the extent of the anti-Israel — and anti-Semitic — cancer in their party.”

We Aren't Suckers

My car was parked in the lot right next to the Jaffa Port the night a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Taylor Force to death. Traumatic as it was to arrive on the scene minutes later, nothing can compare to the pain that his father, Stuart Force, wears on his face to this day.

I met Stuart on the sidelines of the CPAC conference and told him the people of Israel are praying for him and his family. He said he appreciated it, and then headed for the podium, where he spoke as one of several lecturers on a program about the Trump Doctrine titled “We Refuse to Be Suckers.”

The program was hosted by Sander Gerber, a New York–based hedge fund advisor who has been methodically marshaling political support behind the scenes for the Taylor Force Act — a measure in Congress to cut US aid to the Palestinian Authority until they end their pay-for-slay program, as well as a companion measure in the Knesset to slash Israel’s funding to the PA.

Taylor Force was a Vanderbilt University graduate student and was one of six classmates walking along the port, which offers dramatic views of both Old Jaffa and Tel Aviv, when he was attacked.

“I received a call on my cell phone from the chaplain from Vanderbilt University. I knew this wasn’t going to be good,” said Stuart Force. “I then drove to the house and did the hardest thing I’ve ever done or ever will do: tell my wife of 35 years that our wonderful son had been murdered.”

Two months later Gerber, contacted Force by e-mail to extend his deepest condolences, and to share two links: a video showing Palestinians celebrating and granting martyrdom to the terrorist, and documentation of the law that governs the PA’s financing terrorists.

“We were appalled and disgusted,” Force said. “The PA tells the world these are social welfare payments, but we aren’t suckers.”

The Taylor Force Act has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action.

“We look forward to being in the Senate gallery when this passes with bipartisan, unanimous support,” Force said

“All they ask for is that their son did not die in vain,” Gerber added.'

Armed and Dangerous

President Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu have some woes in common: they’re both under investigation by the highest law enforcement officers in their respective lands.

In democracies, a person is innocent until proven guilty, but the rules are different for politicians.

“The damage is already done just by filing the charges,” said Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform.

Nolan described the plight of Alaska’s late Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican whose 41-year tenure ended in his 2008 conviction for failing to properly report gifts in the same sum that Netanyahu is accused of accepting. Eventually, Stevens was exonerated, and a US Special Prosecutor’s report accused overzealous — and perhaps politically motivated — prosecutors of concealing evidence that would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony.

“It’s the liberal function to use the arm of the state to diminish freedom,” said Arthur Rizer, director of justice and national security policy for the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C. “That’s what Nazis did in Germany — they kicked in doors legally.”

Republicans and CPAC activists are keeping close watch on billionaire financier George Soros, a top contributor to the Democratic Party and the BDS movement, who has also spent close to $10 million since 2015 through his Justice & Public Safety political action committee, supporting candidates for district attorney in several US states.

“We can’t obviously stop this, but we [Republicans] need to be just as involved,” Nolan said.

Can anything to done to curb the powers of the prosecution? Sidney Powell, a former US attorney whose 2014 book Licensed to Lie exposed corruption in the Department of Justice, said yes.

“We can abolish the absolute immunity for prosecutors and make them liable to a civil suit for a wrongful conviction,” Powell said. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 700)

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