Ben Williams played bagpipes at the funeral of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last month. On Friday, the retired schoolteacher urged a Republican resurrection that would prevent Donald Trump from becoming the party flag bearer.
Trump, the celebrity billionaire who has enthralled and distressed the US political world, has qualities that would be “disastrous in a president,” Williams told AFP at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the country’s largest grassroots gathering for right-wing activists.
Arrogance, impetuosity and vulgarity, to name a few.
“For the right wing of the party, no” he is not conservative enough, said Williams, who, dressed in a kilt to honor Scottish American month, played his bagpipes for dignitaries and young activists alike.
His view appeared to be in the majority at CPAC, where cheers rang out when it was announced that Trump, the real estate mogul on a glide path to the Republican nomination, had cancelled his scheduled Saturday appearance here.
“I don’t think he’s on the conservative spectrum,” said Brent Tidwell, 29, a Young Republicans volunteer at CPAC.
“I think he saw there was a need and an interest in certain conservative ideas, and espoused them because they were convenient.”
Trump, who has won 10 of the first 15 statewide contests in the Republican primary race, has promised all-out war against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
But before taking her on, he must woo his own party, and among the die-hard activists gathering near Washington, he appears to be losing the battle.
“So Donald Trump is skipping CPAC,” his arch-conservative rival for the nomination Senator Ted Cruz said as he took the stage.
“He was told there were conservatives that were going to be here!” the senator said to a huge roar.
“Never Trump!” a man shouted from the audience, repeating a phrase that has become a popular Twitter hashtag signalling disgust at the rise of the controversial political outsider.
– Conservative enough? –
Cruz prides himself on his strict right-wing purity.
Trump is anything but, despite his professed love for the Bible, gun rights and a strong military, pledges to build a wall on the Mexican border to halt illegal immigration, and opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care reforms.
But not everyone agreed about the real-estate tycoon whose spectacular success is threatening to unravel the party of Abraham Lincoln.
“He’s conservative enough to me,” insisted Roland Trevino, 60, a software architect originally from San Antonio, Texas, who said he appreciates Trump’s success as a billionaire businessman.
There is a storied CPAC tradition among Republican White House seekers, including Ronald Reagan, who extolled conservatism at the conference in the 1970s before he won the presidency.
Trump is all too aware of CPAC’s place in the right-wing firmament, having donated more than $100,000 to the American Conservative Union — which hosts CPAC — Politico reported this week.
Despite universal agreement about the need to prevent a Clinton presidency, there were dramatic divisions about who would be best to prosecute the case against four more years of Democratic leadership.
When Cruz told the crowd he welcomed to his team those conservatives who “don’t want Donald to be our nominee,” there were boos from Trump supporters.
Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the grassroots Tea Party movement, gave Trump a dressing down, arguing he was far from meeting the conservative threshold.
She hammered him for reversing a plank of his immigration plan during Thursday’s debate to say he now supports an increase in visas for highly skilled foreign workers.
“We don’t even know where he stands on this position today. That is not Tea Party,” Martin said.
Carthage College student Chris Roche, who said he supports Senator Marco Rubio as the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump and then Clinton, winced when asked about Trump’s conservative bona fides.
“He’s been liberal for way too long, and all of a sudden he happens to turn conservative?” he said. “I just don’t trust him.”
Although Trump’s campaign explained his absence saying he was attending rallies in Kansas and Florida on Saturday ahead of primaries in those states, Roche had a different assessment for why he might have cancelled his CPAC appearance.
“He didn’t want to walk out on stage and get booed by almost everyone.”