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Scenes from Trump's party takeover: 'Reagan was my all-time favorite— until now'

Katie Glueck, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The day before the Republican National Committee's May meeting in California, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

The week before the RNC's August meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Trump insisted that "both sides" were to blame for white supremacists' violent protests in Charlottesville.

But the night before the RNC's meeting here in Washington this week, Trump delivered a measured State of the Union address on the heels of signing a tax reform law.

His allies at the party committee were elated, reflecting Trump's rock-solid popularity with a base that's looking for every reason to cheer him -- and every reason to discount the criticism that comes pouring in from the rest of the political universe.

"Reagan was my all-time favorite in my lifetime," said Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler of the iconic conservative president. "At least until now."

The RNC, and the vast majority of the GOP base, stood by Trump through the enormously controversial Comey firing and his equivocating responses on racist activity in Charlottesville, though the RNC passed its own resolution condemning white supremacy. But signs of a strong economy and the passage of a top Republican legislative achievement have made the party more enthusiastically dedicated to this unpopular president than ever.

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It was a dynamic on clear display here at a hotel known to Washingtonians as the Hinckley Hilton, the hotel where John Hinckley Jr., tried to assassinate Reagan. Some attendees wore glittering Trump pins on their lapels. They talked in the hallways about the best messages to use against Democrats ("They hate Trump more than they love our country'"--that's what we need to say over and over again," one committeewoman said to several others.). And their gift bags were stocked with boxes of presidential M&Ms and White House-themed Jelly Belly containers.

"I honestly think the RNC, the individuals, the 160-plus, I honestly think the strength of the support for the president may have increased," said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, referring to the 168 members of the RNC. "Part of that is circling the wagons when we believe one of our own -- we're talking about a political party here -- one of our own is under attack, isn't being given a fair shake. I honestly sense the strengthening of the support for the president."

The RNC essentially functions as a political arm of the White House, but the routine assemblies of its members also offer a snapshot of the attitudes of the GOP grass-roots, as each elected member relies on the support of the most committed activists in their respective states.

"It absolutely is a reflection of the base, and by the base, I mean really hardcore base primary voters," said Doug Heye, a former communications director at the RNC. "If you're going to the North Carolina state party convention to vote for who your committee members are or a state party chair, you're committed. And it means you're more than likely a supporter of the president."

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