President Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Friday. [NPR]

With Focus On Guns, Trump Warns Conservatives Not To Be ‘Complacent’ In 2018

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Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

During a meandering speech Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump doubled down on arming some teachers and school personnel after last week’s shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that killed 17 people.

His comments were nearly identical to what National Rifle Association leaders proposed during the three-day annual CPAC conference on Thursday, hammering home that the fight to protect the Second Amendment could be in danger if Democrats are successful in the 2018 elections this fall.

“People get complacent. You’re happy and you just won. Don’t be complacent,” Trump warned attendees about the usual voter drop-off for the party in power in a president’s first midterms.

“They’ll take away your Second Amendment,” Trump claimed of Democrats, “which we will never allow that.”

Trump then asked the crowd which they’d rather have — their Second Amendment rights or the tax cuts that Republicans recently passed. The deafening applause overwhelmingly came down on the side of gun rights.

The president expanded on his push to arm some school officials as a way to curtail more mass shootings, using almost verbatim language to what NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre told the crowd on Thursday — if banks, government buildings, airports and the like are so heavily armed and protected, shouldn’t schools be the same way?

“This would be a major deterrent because these people are inherently cowards,” Trump said of perpetrators of school shootings. “If this guy thought that people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn’t have gone there.”

Trump reiterated that he’s not talking about arming all teachers — only people who are “adept” at using firearms, such as ex-military personnel or policemen.

“I’d rather have somebody who loves their students and wants to protect them. … And the teacher would have shot the hell out of him,” Trump said of the Florida shoooting.

Trump also got applause from the crowd for strengthening background checks, though he didn’t mention another proposal he’s hinted he would support: raising the age of purchase for some guns such as semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.

Despite being open to some proposals that the gun-rights lobby has opposed, Trump has enjoyed deep support from the NRA. He’s called group leaders “great people” and “patriots” in recent days and said Friday morning on the way to the conference, “The NRA wants to do the right thing.”

Trump also delivered some of his most predictable applause lines with his base — standing for the National Anthem and his promise to build a vaunted wall along the Mexican border.

Trump previewed the sanctions against North Korea he’s set to unveil later this afternoon, too.

Trump’s appearance at CPAC is his second time as president, speaking to a movement that’s evolved over the years from its former libertarian-leaning likeness to a full-on Trump show.

The transformation began last year, with conservatives finally embracing a man and his populist policies they’d long been skeptical of but who had finally delivered to them unified control of all three branches of government. Members of Trump’s team were trotted out, comparing him to the movement’s idol, former President Ronald Reagan.

A year later, almost all the major speakers come from Trump’s administration and Cabinet or are top allies, with no vocal detractors on the lineup. Once prominent draws such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., or his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, were nowhere to be found. Congressional leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., didn’t attend either. The one former Trump foe who was on the schedule was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, once known as “Lyin’ Ted” but who has since appeared to mend fences with the president.

Instead, there was a sense of unity projected on the first day of the conference, which was dotted by attendees wearing the president’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats and his branded political merchandise for sale in the exhibit area.

As Vice President Pence previewed in his warm-up pitch to the crowd on Thursday, this year it’s all about outlining the “promises made, promises kept” from their administration, from enacting tax cuts to rolling back regulations and putting more conservative judges on the bench.

“2017 was the most consequential year in the history of the conservative movement,” Pence boasted.

There was much Republicans didn’t accomplish last year, though — chiefly their long-held promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. And Trump’s approval numbers, while on a slight uptick recently, still remain at historic lows as Democratic enthusiasm is on the rise after blows at the ballot box.

There was another clear theme that ran throughout the first day of CPAC: how Republicans plan to counter those pitfalls, share their message about the economy and attack Democrats ahead of this fall’s midterm elections. Pence and several other speakers seized on Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s past comments that the tax bill only gives “crumbs” back to working Americans while helping corporations the most.

“Any leader who says that $1,000 in the pockets of working families is ‘crumbs’ is out of touch with the American people,” the vice president said.

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