- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2018

President Trump’s decision to endorse former political rival Mitt Romney’s Senate bid in Utah has left conservative activists baffled, but not deterred in their support for Mr. Trump.

Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Maryland this week said they’re willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt on his decision, hoping its part of a broader strategy.

“It is a little questionable to me,” said Nick Lautaris, of New Jersey. “Listen, I have the backing of the president 100 percent, and if he feels that there is a strategic play in line where we should back him, then we should back him.”

“One thing I have found about President Trump, [is] no matter how crazy it sounds in the beginning, there is some truth to it in the end we end of finding out he was right,” the 48-year-old said. “I am not one to doubt him.”

Mr. Romney, the darling of CPAC in 2008, has been persona non grata with the GOP’s right flank since he bungled what many of them considered a winnable election against President Obama in 2012, then emerged as a leading voice of anti-Trump Republicans in 2016.

Mr. Trump countered that Mr. Romney was a “stone-cold loser” — making the president’s endorsement this week all the more surprising.

“He must know something that I don’t,” quipped Nancy Johnson, a retired English teacher from Washington who sported an “Adorable Deplorable” bracelet here. She said she trusts Mr. Trump to do the right thing.

Indeed, “In Trump we Trust” sentiment pervaded CPAC, where activists and conservative leaders gave the president high marks for his first year.

Unemployment and taxes are down, paychecks are on the rise, they boasted. The federal regulatory burden has been clawed back, the courts are more conservative, and the individual mandate in Obamacare is gone, they bragged.

Mr. Trump scored an incomplete on his promise to repeal Obamacare and has yet to erect a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, reduce the national debt or make headway on an infrastructure deal.

But attendees said the good has far outweighed the bad.

“On substance, the record of delivery has been remarkable,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a darling of the conservative grassroots.

Activists said they are willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt on his offer to grant a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in exchange for ending chain-migration, strengthening border security and building the wall.

They also are cutting him some slack on his decision to sign off on the recent bipartisan spending bill hashed out between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Charles S. Schumer, New York Democrat, that increased spending by roughly $300 billion.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, which opposed the spending bill, said Mr. Trump’s triumphs in other areas have helped alleviate the lingering dismay over the GOP’s big spending ways.

“When you look at the accomplishments writ large, the balance sheet favors this administration having done more good than bad on policy — and by a pretty broad margin,” Mr. Phillips said. “There is still disappointment on spending. It is mitigated somewhat by the tax cuts, the regulatory reform, and by the fact that Republicans have failed miserably to control spending pre-Trump.”

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