Attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference that attended Friday to hear President Donald Trump came away with different reactions to a speech that wasn't markedly different from what he delivered during the 2016 campaign.
Trump was the first sitting president to attend CPAC in his first term since Ronald Reagan. The grassroots gathering of conservatives is a yearly event in Washington, D.C. and is where, in 2011, Trump pondered his first run at the White House.
Touching on issues such as "fake" news, the construction of a border wall along the Southern United States and his administration's policy goals for the next year, Trump deviated only slightly from the same rhetoric he's been employing since the campaign. But according to some attendees, there was enough of a departure from the Trump campaign rhetoric in Friday's speech to warrant notice.
Cliff Li, executive director of the National Committee of Asian American Republicans — who served in an advisory capacity for the Trump campaign, but does not play a role with the administration — told The Blaze he finds the new president "brilliant."
"Some of [this speech] was a reiteration of what's he's said before," Li noted. "But I did hear something I found very interesting: He explicitly mentioned that the Republican Party needs to change itself to include working people. That's traditionally been the dialogue of Democrats. He's very much about American market competitiveness, but now he talks about wanting to protect the worker. He's focusing on the middle ground, and [CPAC] is the right place to do that to unify conservative forces."
For three young Liberty University students who lean libertarian, Trump didn't dazzle, but he also didn't exactly disappoint, which is a a possible sign that Trump's message is resonating a little more with the liberty movement which has been critical of him in the past.
Grizzly Joe, who was immortalized on Twitter Thursday at CPAC for giving neo-Nazi Richard Spencer a piece of his mind before Spencer was kicked out by event organizers, said he was there for the "historical aspect" of the speech. He used his run-in with Spencer to talk about how conservatives have different opinions on a variety of policy issues, but he believes they remain united in their desire for a stronger, more prosperous country.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Trump speech — or CPAC, for that matter — without a good old fashioned protest. Twenty or so activists met attendees outside as they approached the hotel, holding signs and chanting their disapproval of the new president. They were there, they said, to prove that protestors weren't organized and paid — or "astroturfed" — by Democrat opposition simply to protest the Trump administration and cause division. One of their concerns was the move to repeal and replace Obamacare, something Trump indicated in his speech he would like to see done quickly.
Andi Bernat, who was there on behalf of her organization The Humane Society of the United States, said the Trump speech was "energizing" to the ballroom in which it was held. Bernat attends CPAC, she said, to get the word out that the Humane Society is inclusive and that an interest in animal advocacy isn't only the purview of the left side of the political aisle. She was careful not to say she supported Trump exactly, but she did express a desire to see him succeed.
"I can understand why his message would be appealing to people," she said. "And as an American, I hope every administration would be successful."
While the attendees at CPAC who heard Trump's speech had different reasons for listening, Trump was singularly clear about why he was there to speak.
“I wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to my friends," the President said.