- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2020

President Trump is a “monster truck” ready to steamroll over whichever Democrat emerges from the presidential primaries, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, sending thrills through the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Mr. Pence said he and Mr. Trump don’t see much to fear from any of the candidates and noted that Democratic voters must pick among what he called a deeply flawed set of options.

He gleefully recounted the chaos this week of the debate in South Carolina, which he called a “demolition derby” that dented all of the candidates on stage. But he said it doesn’t matter which one is behind the wheel in November.

“I think we all know how this is going to end,” Mr. Pence said. “There’s going to be a monster truck with a big ‘T’ on the hood that’s going to drive into the infield and roll right over them.”

CPAC, the largest annual gathering dedicated to the conservative movement, has come to embrace Mr. Trump as a messianic figure who has stocked the courts with judges, has cut taxes and now stands as the bulwark against a Democratic presidential field with one self-proclaimed socialist and a number of other candidates trying to match him.

Indeed, CPAC’s theme this year is “America versus socialism.” Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and a man who has called himself a socialist from his earliest days in office, was on activists’ minds.

“He’s never run a business or had to balance a budget in his life. He’s a loser,” said Forrest Higginbotham, a law enforcement officer in Fairfax County, Virginia. “I’ve watched the debates, and I don’t see any appeal other than a combination of him and Elizabeth Warren that could be anything viable at all, and I don’t think any of them are viable.”

Barbara Vaughn, who is retired military from Florida, said Mr. Pence’s “monster truck” analogy was clever but she was keeping an eye on former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his vast financial resources.

“My fear is that Michael Bloomberg will spend whatever it takes to do just what he almost said the other night in the debate when he talked about the fact that he bought those people into Congress,” Ms. Vaughn said. “Bloomberg’s money gives me a lot of pause.”

One of the questions in the annual CPAC straw poll is which Democrat attendees think is the biggest threat to Mr. Trump‘s reelection. The results, to be released this weekend, will give a better sense of where conservatives stand on that front.

Richard Zimmerman, 72, a retired limousine company owner originally from New York, predicted absolute pandemonium if Democrats try to block Mr. Sanders from the nomination if he heads into the party’s national convention with a delegate lead.

He said Mr. Trump has multiple paths to reelection, building on his 2016 vote.

“If he gets 15% or more of the black vote, that’s going to knock the Democrats out,” said Mr. Zimmerman. “So there are a lot of scenarios he can improve on, and there’s not many the Democrats can come up other than hating him.”

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has emerged from the Democrats’ impeachment stronger than ever, with the highest approval ratings of his presidency.

Mr. Pence, responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s barb that Mr. Trump is “impeached forever” in the history books, pointed out that he also has been “acquitted forever.”

CPAC’s embrace of Mr. Trump might be surprising to those who attended the conference years back, but there is little question now that Mr. Trump is the leader of the movement after his hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016.

Activists were also salivating over the chance to draw contrasts between Mr. Trump‘s vision and socialism, as Democrats propose ideas such as government-run health care and tuition-free college.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was shot by a deranged Sanders supporter at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, used that experience as an example of the dangers of socialized medicine amid calls from Mr. Sanders and others for “Medicare for All.”

“Health care is very personal to me,” Mr. Scalise said. “I would not be here today without the greatest health care system on the face of the planet.”

Charlie Kirk, founder of the youth-oriented group Turning Point USA, warned the crowd not to dismiss the possibility that Mr. Sanders can get elected.

“No, he could win,” Mr. Kirk said. “And I want every conservative activist in this room to get your laughs out of the way and get the mockery out of the way and get deathly serious.”

He said the left is trying to juice turnout among college students with efforts on campuses to “embrace Marxism.”

“These universities are indoctrinating the next generation around ideas of open borders and Marxism. And where Sen. Sanders gets his base is a limitless supply of millions and millions of students that enter our university system, and they’re being turned into activists,” he said.

Marco Rodrigues, a 22-year-old student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, predicted that Mr. Sanders will win the Democratic nomination and said he would be the most difficult challenger to Mr. Trump.

“He can get the college students excited about him, and I think you’re going to see a higher turnout among college voters because of him,” he said.

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