By Julie Bykowicz
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump used his first presidential appearance before the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists on Friday to sharply escalate his criticism of the news media and take direct aim at the use of anonymous sources. Reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” he declared, just hours after members of his own staff held a press briefing and refused to allow their names to be used.
“A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face,” Trump told the Conservative Political Action Committee. “Let there be no more sources.”
Members of Trump’s White House team regularly demand anonymity when talking to reporters.
Trump said he wasn’t against all the press, just “the fake news media or press.”
“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.”
The president has chafed at a number of anonymously sourced stories, including numerous reports describing contacts between his campaign officials and the Russians, which the White House has sharply disputed.
“The fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Trump insisted. “It doesn’t represent the people. It will never represent the people and we’re going to do something about it.”
It was a triumphal return to CPAC for Trump, who was warmly welcomed by a crowd that loves pushback against the mainstream media.
After his broadside on the press, Trump turned to a recitation of his agenda, promising bold action on health care, trade, energy policy and more.
“One by one, we’re checking off the promises we made to the American people,” he said, telling the group “I will not disappoint you.”
Trump told the conservatives that the health care law he inherited from President Barack Obama threatens to bring about “total catastrophe,” reiterating his promise to repeal and replace it. He highlighted his efforts to get tough on illegal immigration, saying that “as we speak today, immigration officers are finding gang members, drug dealers and criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out.”
He promised changes to the welfare system, saying, “It’s time for all Americans to get off welfare and get back to work,” adding that: “You’re going to love it.”
While conservatives aren’t always in sync with Trump’s views, they’re happy to have a scrapper in the White House who’s often on their side.
“How good it feels to have somebody lead our country who knows how to fight,” American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp told the crowd in introducing Trump.
Trump recalled his past visits at CPAC with nostalgia, saying he’d first appeared with no notes and little preparation and gotten a strong reception that helped to put him on the path to the presidency.
“I loved the commotion. Polls went through the roof and I wasn’t even running, but it gave me an idea,” he said.
Friday’s speech played out like a greatest hits reel from his 2016 campaign.
He reminisced about his victory in the Republican primaries. He vowed to “build the wall” along the Mexican border. He denounced Hillary Clinton’s characterization of some of his supporters as belonging in a “basket of deplorables.”
Strikingly, the CPAC crowd responded to his Clinton criticism with chants of “Lock her up!” just as they did at Trump rallies last year.
Further blurring the line between candidate Trump and President Trump: he departed the CPAC stage to the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the same exit music he used during the campaign.
Six years ago, Trump stepped to the CPAC stage as the “money, money, money, money” chorus of his reality TV show theme song blared.
That crowd was less than adoring, occasionally laughing and booing the former Democrat.
Although Trump returned in ensuing years, he was notably absent last year. ACU chairman Schlapp said the presidential candidates were asked to participate in a question-and-answer session, but Trump had wanted to make a speech.
Now, CPAC is largely the Trump show — “TPAC,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called it.
Schlapp said Trump was the first president to address the group during his first year in office since Ronald Reagan in 1981. He called that a “huge sign of respect.”
In his first appearance, Trump tried to burnish his conservative credentials with assertions that he is prolife and anti-gun control, while heaping praise on himself and his business acumen.
And he appeared to test-drive the “make America great again” phrase that would become his 2016 presidential campaign slogan. “Our country will be great again,” he said. He trademarked that phrase in 2012, just after Mitt Romney lost to Obama.
An angry audience member shouted: “You have zero chance of getting elected.”