“Four more years!” the crowd chanted at Mike Pence, the vice-president. “Four more years!”
Not so long ago, under the shadow of investigations, impeachment and dismal approval ratings, Donald Trump’s re-election seemed a long shot. But at the biggest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives on Thursday, self-belief was surging and some were already looking ahead to what a second term might bring.
“I mean, think about it,” Pence invited attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the National Harbor near Washington. “Four more years means more jobs. Four more years means more judges. Four more years means more support for our troops. And it’s going to take at least four more years to drain that swamp.”
To roars of approval, Pence ran through a wishlist that included launching the space force, lowering the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, rebuilding roads, bridges and airports and improving school choice.
Supporters at CPAC also expressed hopes that four more years of Trump would mean finishing the border wall, fresh investigations of Bill and Hillary Clinton and, just possibly, overturning the landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade. Their ambitions are sure to ring alarm bells in liberal America.
Ronald Solomon, president of the Maga Mall, a retailer of Trump merchandise including novelty socks and pens operating in the exhibit hall, suggested: “Repeal Obamacare totally, freeing up a trillion dollars to increase the tax cuts for individuals; we’ve already seen tax cuts for businesses.
“We have to totally overhaul the immigration system to get people in on merit rather than the visa lottery or via relatives. Also, finalisation of the wall and keeping up pressure on Central American governments.”
Solomon, 60, from Las Vegas, added: “Roe v Wade isn’t very important to me, but it is to a lot of people with religious convictions. It’s horrific that a lot of states are advocating the murder of children up to the moment of birth. I think they should be charged with homicide.”
I would love it if he had a fair media so he didn’t have to tweetDoctor Drake
Standing in a registration queue, Justice Payton, 25, who is African American, welcomed Trump’s first-term approach to prison reform and abortion rights. “I’d like to see him stand firm on immigration. It’s important for us to secure our borders and know who’s living here now.
“Immigration affects the black community the most, especially when it’s low-wage workers being employed in roles that could be occupied by school or college dropouts.”
Payton, a salesperson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, described Trump as “the most pro-life president we’ve had” but doubted whether even he could help reverse the Roe v Wade supreme court ruling after nearly half a century. “That would be a win,” she mused wistfully. “Fantastic.”
Nearly half a decade after Trump launched his campaign by proposing a wall at the Mexican border, immigration remains a defining priority for many. Cheryl Carroll, 58, an MRI technician in Philadelphia, said: “Be tough. We have laws and we need to follow the rules. If I speed down the road, I get a ticket. If I have to follow the law, why shouldn’t everyone?”
Trump pulled out of CPAC in 2016 during a bitterly divisive Republican primary election race. But now he enjoys a cult-like status at the event and, with impeachment already a seemingly distant memory, is due to give a rally-style speech at the event on Saturday. Many supporters feel upbeat about his re-election prospects, especially as they perceive a melee on the Democratic side led by leftwing senator Bernie Sanders.
But much of a second-term agenda would depend on whether Republicans can retain control of the Senate and regain the House of Representatives. Trump may otherwise face frustrations like his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, whose signature healthcare reform came in his first term.
For some here, the status quo would be sufficient, particularly when it comes to an economy seen to be performing strongly.
Joe Glover, 52, a retired government worker from the Philadelphia area, said: “I’d like to see him continue what he did in his first term keeping taxes low. I appreciate reducing regulations on small businesses. If he can keep doing what he’s doing to keep the economy humming, that helps everybody. This rising tide lifts all boats.”
Others echoed rightwing media talking points that the Clintons, media and “deep state” are conspiring to thwart Trump and overturn the will of the people. Wearing a red “Make America great again” cap, Adrian Eley, 69, a retired electrical engineer from Raleigh, North Carolina, said: “He’s got to clean out the rest of this deep state and get a lot of those people out of there. It riles me they were able to get away with this stuff, especially Clinton and those emails.”
Doctor Drake, 52, an African American radio personality from Jacksonville, Florida, added: “I would like to see rule of law for everybody and people who have done crimes, like the Clintons, go to jail. I say prosecute hypocrisy.”
Few, meanwhile, were even willing to say that Trump should stop tweeting should he gain a second spell in the White House. Drake, sporting a “Trump” hat and “45” T-shirt, commented: “I would love it if he had a fair media so he didn’t have to tweet. If the media didn’t twist everything, he could say something and they’d transfer it to the people.
“If he cured cancer, they’d say he put people out of work and cured cancer.”