A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Trump’s CPAC speech was like a national Rorschach test

To the president’s supporters, the two-plus hours of off-the-cuff remarks were high political entertainment. Critics saw an ‘unhinged rant.’

Dear readers:

“I’m in love, you’re in love. We’re all in love together.” That was President Trump, speaking to supporters over the weekend at CPAC, the yearly convention for conservative activists held in Washington, DC.

Hard as it is to believe now, this same group not long ago regarded Mr. Trump with deep skepticism. This year’s conference was, as Trump’s remarks made plain, a lovefest.

The president gave the longest speech of his career, clocking in at well over two hours. He poked fun at the Green New Deal (“Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television.”) He mocked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and talked about his love of TiVo. He boasted, yet again, about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He literally wrapped his arms around the American flag and gave it a squeeze.

Critics called it “unhinged.” “The president of the United States gave a rambling and incoherent two-hour speech in which he raved like a lunatic and told crazy, self-serving lies from start to finish,” wrote The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson. “If that no longer qualifies as alarming, we’re in serious trouble.”

Others saw it as pure political entertainment. “It was like listening to Robin Williams’ genie in the Disney movie Aladdin, Howard Stern in his peak years as a radio shock jock, or Don Rickles as an insult comic,” wrote Reason’s Nick Gillespie. “There is simply no potential candidate in the Democratic Party who wouldn’t be absolutely blown off the stage by him.” 

Assessing the widely disparate reactions, conservative Trump critic S.E. Cupp commented that the real division in this country isn’t between the right and the left per se, but between Trump fans and Trump foes: “The interpretations of all things Trump are so divergent, so disparate from one another, that there isn’t even a common language set to describe what each is seeing,” she wrote on CNN.com.

To some, Trump serving as a kind of national Rorschach test reflects the extent to which our politics have become a “cult of personality” – in which allegiance to (or abhorrence of) the man has overridden thoughtful discussion of issues and ideas. “Trump’s speech was a virtuoso performance, showing off the man in full,” writes National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. “But the overriding theme to the pudding was that there is only Trump.”

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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