President Trump took firm grasp of the reins of the conservative movement over the past week, using a major address at the Conservative Political Action Conference to assure them that “now you finally have a president” and promising to make their goals a reality.
The activists, who just a year ago were wary of Mr. Trump, fully embraced him. He earned strong approval in the CPAC/Washington Times straw poll, and activists said they want Republicans in Congress to give him more support — signaling where the party base’s allegiance lies.
The president’s agenda — including a crackdown on sanctuary cities, extreme vetting of foreign nationals, and tariffs on China and Mexico — has become the blueprint for the conservative movement.
And CPAC knew it: A whopping 80 percent of those surveyed in the straw poll said Mr. Trump is “realigning the conservative movement.”
“I’m here fighting for you, and I will continue to fight for you,” Mr. Trump said in a fervent speech Friday, drawing several standing ovations from a crowd where many were wearing his “Make American Great Again” caps.
One overwhelming bond between Mr. Trump and conservatives was his decision to nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
A staggering 94 percent of the 1,447 activists surveyed in the straw poll said they approved of the pick, and they were eager to make sure Senate Republicans don’t bungle it.
Three-quarters said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, should be prepared to trigger the “nuclear option” and eviscerate the filibuster if Democrats attempt to block Judge Gorsuch.
“I don’t think the Democrats are going to do anything at all to help this country, so we’ve got to do it on our own,” said Steve Savarese, 74, who works in real estate in New York.
On specific issues, Republicans showed strong support for Mr. Trump’s extreme vetting proposal, for his crackdown on sanctuary cities and for his massive infrastructure infusion.
Still, some differences emerged: While Mr. Trump has made infrastructure and his border wall his early priorities, CPAC attendees said their top items are repealing Obamacare and overhauling the tax code.
Conservatives did seem to slightly prefer Mr. Trump’s approach to trade, with 38 percent saying they agreed with imposing tariffs on foreign countries. Just 33 percent backed House Republicans’ preferred option of a border adjustment tax. Another 13 percent said Congress should ditch both ideas and work on something else, and 17 percent were unsure.
That could create headwinds for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and his rank-and-file members, who have been making minimum headway on selling the border tax idea.
Overall, conservatives seemed content to follow Mr. Trump and want congressional Republicans to take his cues: 67 percent said Republicans in Congress “should be doing more” to support him, and just 8 percent wanted them to throw up roadblocks to the president’s agenda.
“He’s going to straighten [them] all out,” said Ronald Thomas, 73, from Pasadena, Maryland. “I just honestly believe he’s going to say, ‘This is what I think you ought to do and if you don’t want to come along and do it, then fine. Become unelected.’”
Mr. Trump had an 86 percent approval rate from CPAC attendees, with 55 percent saying they “strongly” approve of the job he is doing.
CPAC attendees also didn’t mind Mr. Trump’s prolific use of Twitter, with 70 percent saying they approved. In interviews, several said it is helping the president get beyond a press corps that appears openly hostile to him and his views.
Mr. Trump returned to that theme in his own speech Friday, describing his battle against those who cover him.
“We are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake,” Mr. Trump said. “They are the enemy of the people. They have no sources, they just make them up when there are none. They’re very dishonest people.”
He said journalists should be required to stop using anonymous sources.
“I’m against the people who make up stories and make up sources,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there. ‘A source says Donald Trump is a horrible human being.’ Let them say it to my face.”
A year ago, Mr. Trump chose to forgo CPAC and stay on the campaign trail. He placed last out of the four remaining Republican presidential hopefuls at the time when CPAC voted on its first- or second-place choices for president.
This year, activists showed nothing but love.
“I wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to my friends,” the president said.
Gesturing to the crowd, he said, “These are my friends. I love you people. We’ll see you again next year and the year after that. I’ll be doing this for CPAC whenever I can.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.