Donald Trump revelled in his capture of America’s conservative movement on Friday with a speech that carried all the anger, nativism and rampant populism of his election campaign.
“We are Americans,” the US president said to rapturous applause, “and the future belongs to us.”
Trump told the country’s biggest annual gathering of conservative activists that he would crush the Islamic State, deport criminals, crack down on welfare, overhaul healthcare and put miners back to work.
He also lashed out again and at length at “the dishonest media” and promised ominously: “We’re going to do something about it.”
A year ago such a scene was unthinkable at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where Trump gained just 15% in a straw poll of attendees during the Republican primary race. He pulled out of a scheduled speech amid predictions that he would have been booed.
But this time he came to CPAC on a victory lap garlanded by attendees who shouted “Build the wall!”, referring to Trump’s planned wall on the Mexican border, which he promised would come “way, way ahead of schedule”. Chants of “Lock her up” also greeted his mention of defeated election rival Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, the raucous atmosphere resembled a Trump election rally, right down to his entry to the sound of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA and exit to the strains of the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
It was evidence of a man in perpetual campaign mode who will face a re-election contest in 2020.
CPAC spent eight years waiting for a Republican president and those attending this year seem to have made peace with the fact Trump is no traditional conservative. “Now you finally have a president, finally,” he said to applause. “It took you a long time and it’s patriots like you that made it happen, believe me.”
As so often at last year’s rallies that fired up predominantly white crowds, Trump reserved some of his intense wrath for the media, repeating his description of them as “enemies of the people”.
He claimed he was not against all the press, just “the fake news media or press”.
In particular, Trump complained about the use of anonymous sources and accused news outlets of making up sources for damaging reports about his administration. “I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.
“A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face. Let there be no more sources.”
Yet he spoke just hours after members of his own staff held a press briefing in which they refused to attach their names to the information. Briefings are given reguarly with an instruction that they should be attributed to unnamed “senior administration officials”.
Trump told the audience: “The fake news doesn’t tell the truth. It doesn’t represent the people. It will never represent the people and we’re going to do something about it.” He did not explain what that might be.
Shortly after Trump’s attack on the media, the White House altered arrangements for Friday’s briefing with the press secretary, Sean Spicer. It changed from “on camera” to “off camera” and from the normal briefing room to a gathering for an “expanded pool” of reporters at the briefing room doors.
During a characteristically discursive speech, the president said he is already delivering on his agenda – one seen as dark and divisive by his liberal critics. “The era of empty talk is over, it’s gone; now is the time for action,” he said.
“One by one, we’re checking off the promises we made to the American people. I will not disappoint you.”
He pushed some familar conservative buttons. “It’s time for all Americans to get off welfare and get back to work,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”
He claimed that “jobs are already starting to pour back” and pointed to pledges for more manufacturing jobs in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which were crucial to his election win.
Trump vowed to deport undocumented immigrants in the US who have committed crimes. “As we speak today, immigration officers are finding gang members, drug dealers and criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out,” he said. “These are bad dudes. We’re getting the bad ones out, OK?”
Trump also promised that “in a matter of days” his administration will take “a brand new action” to prevent potential terrorists from entering the US.
White House officials have said a new immigration ban will be released shortly after his first one sparked protests and was thwarted in court.
The president said he will “never apologise” for protecting the safety of the American people and promised that “we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorism the hell out of the country”.
Trump told the conservatives the healthcare law he inherited from former president Barack Obama threatened to bring about “total catastrophe”, and reaffirmed his promise to repeal and replace it.
In a fierce defence of his “America first” vision, Trump declared: “There is no such thing as a global flag, a global anthem, or a global flag. This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe. I’m representing your country.”
Members of the audience – some wearing red “Make America great again” baseball caps – stood to clap, cheer and chant: “USA! USA!” Trump gave his trademark thumbs up sign.
Attendees praised the speech. Michael Conners, from Brooklyn, New York, said seeing Trump live reminded him of some of the former reality TV star’s appeal. “He’s always a little bit different. He’s a little bit off the cuff – intelligent, funny. Maybe says the wrong thing every once in a while, but that’s just because he’s not a regular politician.”
Many of those who took in the remarks sided with the president in his ongoing feud with the press. “I don’t trust the media in general,” said Adrian Marcogliese, who hails from Montreal but is studying in the US. “The polls spoke for themselves when they said Trump was going to lose.”
The former Ukip leader and Trump cheerleader Nigel Farage was the next speaker, claiming that Brexit and Trump’s election win were “the beginning of a great global revolution” that would now continue across the rest of the west.
“We’ve got some very exciting elections coming up in the Netherlands, in France,” he said, alluding to the challenges of far-right leaders Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.
Farage defined the UK’s allies as being those that spoke the same language, saying: “Our real friends in the world speak English, have common law, and stand by us in times of crisis.”
He also claimed: “We’re not against anybody based on religion or ethnicity,” although he has a record of inflammatory claims about Muslims.