By Christopher R Barron
It was because of me that Trump gave his first ever CPAC speech. I thought he’d be another Reagan – how wrong I was
In early 2011, the gay conservative organization I co-founded, GOProud, was embroiled in a fight over our inclusion in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Forces of intolerance within the conservative movement were boycotting CPAC because they allowed our group to serve as a co-sponsor. After a bruising few months of fighting, we wanted to find a way to make CPAC not about the boycott, but about uniting and energizing the conservative movement. I decided to reach out to my friend and longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone to see if Trump would be interested in coming to CPAC as our guest and speaking to the gathering.
Just before he climbed into the waiting limo I yelled out to him ‘Mr Trump, please run for President’
Trump agreed and over the next couple weeks I worked with him and his team to arrange for his first ever speech at CPAC. I gave the New York Times the exclusive story of his surprise appearance and the reporter told me it was the first time the political section of the Times had actually covered Trump.
He arrived at the Wardman Park hotel in Washington DC in typical Trump fashion – he insisted on making a dramatic entrance through the front door (even though I had recommended he be whisked in through a private entrance). Trump was greeted like a rock star by thousands of grassroots conservatives and he delivered a barnburner of a speech in front of an overflow, standing room only crowd.
I walked with Trump out through the back of the hotel after his speech, assuring him that it had been a huge success. Just before he climbed into the waiting limo I yelled out to him: “Mr Trump, please run for president.”
Man, I had no idea this is where we would end up.
I loved the idea of Trump running for president. The idea of a charismatic, successful businessman who wouldn’t be a captive to special interests and who could fundamentally shake up the broken political status quo.
I thought Trump could follow in Reagan’s footsteps. I was wrong.
Instead of emulating Reagan, Trump has played to the political cheap seats. Instead of offering Republicans a positive vision for the future, he chose to play on some of our most base fears.
Instead of building the conservative movement, Trump has torn it apart. Reagan attracted disaffected Democrats and independents, while at the same time keeping the core conservative base. Trump, on the other hand, has turned off movement conservatives while attracting the political equivalent of the Star Wars cantina. He has allowed his campaign to play footsy with xenophobes, white nationalists and unreconstructed bigots.
I expected that, like any good businessman, Trump would first and foremost figure out what he didn’t understand and surround himself with some of the best and brightest policy minds in the country. Instead Trump has surrounded himself with yes men and sycophants.
I expected that Trump, a lifelong New Yorker, a man whose own personal life was far from the family-values-crowd version of perfect, would run a campaign that would be libertarian on social issues. Instead he has actively sought the support of anti-gay zealots like Jerry Falwell Jr.
I expected that Trump would push the envelope, indeed I hoped he would break the rules. I did, however, believe that Trump would be guided by some sense of common decency. Instead his campaign has been more Andrew Dice Clay than Ronald Reagan – belittling POWs, women and the disabled.
It didn’t have to be like this. Trump has a natural charisma and God-given political talent that is rarely seen in today’s political world. I suspect that like any good businessman, Trump is merely selling what we, the political consumers, want to buy.
And there’s the rub. Being president isn’t just about selling us what we want to buy. Being president is often about selling us what we need to buy.