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As Trump Prepares To Address CPAC, Outlining An 'America First' Agenda


So what can President Trump really change about America? That question is on the table as the president speaks today to the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is meeting in Washington. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro has been covering the gathering. He's on the line. Domenico, good morning.


INSKEEP: OK. So yesterday, Trump's top aides were there. And they talked about how the president has brought together a coalition between the conservative movement and some of the different strands of thought that Trump promotes as America-first ideology. Do they really agree on enough that they would pass significant legislation?

MONTANARO: What I think they care about is winning. (Laughter) I mean, you know, this CPAC group, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is not one that's always been warm to Donald Trump. It's been one through the years that he's had kind of a rocky reception at at times. He even didn't go last year. But, at the same time, conservatives have been in the wilderness for so long.

This has been - this is the first time in a decade that CPAC is being held when Republicans have the White House, control of the House and Senate. So, you know, they may not get along on everything. But they think they'll get along on quite a bit, enough to get the majority of what they like through Congress and signed by this president.

INSKEEP: You're reminding me, Domenico, of a statement by Reince Priebus, who is in the Republican chairman. I'm paraphrasing. It's not an exact quote. But I believe he said early in 2016, winning will solve a lot of problems, conflicts, divisions within the Republican Party. And there he was on stage yesterday with Steve Bannon, a very different figure.

MONTANARO: No, it's certainly true. And Bannon - you know, it was really interesting to listen to Reince Priebus, the chief of staff to the president, talk about how Donald Trump has united the party, almost willfully telling the audience that Trump has done so. And he said, look at me and Steve. You know, Steve echoes that conservative movement and the ideology of the movement. And I'm the party.

So it was pretty interesting to see how he tried to say that they worked together. They get along really well. There aren't any tensions - that they're mostly complementary but that Steve Bannon is really the ideological inspiration for Donald Trump.

And Bannon's ideology is far different from traditional conservatism, considering, as you noted, the America-first policy, sovereignty, national culture, as he talked about yesterday - much more protectionist - much more into things like bilateral trade agreements rather than multilateral trade agreements. So you're going to see that relationship between conservatives and Donald Trump tested.

INSKEEP: OK. So Republicans - conservatives - did favor free trade. There were some Republicans - by no means all - at least Republican elites - who favored immigration reform. As you walked around the halls, did you find people saying, yeah, I'm comfortable with the president's immigration policies? I'm comfortable that the Transpacific Partnership is dead and so forth.

MONTANARO: You know, people didn't - it didn't really come up all that much. Honestly, the energy was not as, you know, hot as it usually is there. I mean, the energy was kind of sucked out of the room in some respects. But winning kind of does that. Immigration, though, I should say, is a subject that binds conservatives. You know, this is not something that is controversial at all within Republican circles, banning people from other countries.

In fact, you heard a little bit of a mild rebuke of what's coming tomorrow with the Democratic National chairman race, where you had someone on stage who introduced Ted Cruz, saying that - talking about Keith Ellison's Muslim religion. He's the congressman from Minnesota who's one of the potential final two to be chairman. And Ted Cruz said, hey, if he wins, there's at least - you know, there's at least truth in advertising with the Democratic Party.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Domenico, thank you very much.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. He is covering the Conservative Political Action Conference, which President Trump will address today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.