“Boy, do we have a politician who has kept his promises, and that is President Donald Trump,” McEnany said during her remarks.
If your first introduction to Republican politics was this event, you wouldn’t know that these kinds of conservative gatherings used to carry more of an undercurrent of conflict, between ideological activists and the Republican establishment. Now that Trump is the establishment—and now that Republicans who opposed him have either been rendered irrelevant or brought onboard—that kind of fractious talk has dissipated. In its place is feel-good rhetoric about Trump’s greatness and all the “winning” allegedly taking place.
Former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz was once one of those opponents, but he, too, has joined the Trump train. Chaffetz dramatically withdrew his endorsement of Trump after the Access Hollywood tape’s release in October 2016, before reversing course a few weeks later and saying he would vote for him after all. “I can’t say I was the first person to adopt Donald Trump for president, but I’m a believer now, because he’s the only person who could have done what he’s done,” Chaffetz told the crowd. “I’m absolutely amazed and proud of what this president has been able to do.” In a show of dedication, he at one point advised the crowd to look in the mirror and say, “I’m so happy Hillary Clinton is not the president of the United States” when they wake up each morning.
One voice of measured dissent was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who criticized Trump’s trade tariffs, saying he thought they were “making the markets skittish and may put a hamper on economic growth.” But even he tempered that criticism with praise, giving his full-throated endorsement to the Trump-backed tax cut Republicans passed in December and praising the president for being a better golfer than he is.
Controversy had surrounded the Sunshine Summit this year due to organizers’ invitation of Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative provocateur who pled guilty in 2014 to making an illegal campaign contribution and recently received a presidential pardon from Trump. D’Souza had tweeted an attack on Parkland students that was widely condemned, and some Republicans, including Florida Governor Rick Scott, criticized the state party for welcoming him to the event. (D’Souza later apologized.)
But the summit’s attendees didn’t seem to mind his presence. D’Souza took the stage after a long day of speeches and was greeted with a standing ovation. Stacks of his latest book sat on tables in the back of the ballroom, and he signed them after speaking. D’Souza gave a nearly 45-minute-long stem-winder on some of his favorite themes, like his contention that Democrats inspired the Nazi regime. He also referred to Hillary Clinton as a “crooked hag.”
In an interview afterward, D’Souza said he had reached out to the organizers after reading about the controversy over his invitation, and had been assured they were sticking with him. “It seemed to be a temporary ripple in the water that quickly dissipated,” he said.