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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

That much was clear at the winter session this week, which began the same day that Monmouth University released a poll showing that Trump's overall approval numbers have ticked up. Among Republicans, a whopping 87 percent approve of the job he is doing, and in the hallways of the Hilton, often-rapturous enthusiasm for Trump was palpable as attendees awaited addresses from Vice President Mike Pence and then from Trump himself.

Trump's State of the Union speech was "superb," Scheffler said. "I mean, it's the best I've ever heard, ever. I've listened to State of the Union messages going back maybe 40 years and it is the best of the best."

"We're all very proud of the job he did on the State of the Union Tuesday night," added Arkansas Republican National Committeewoman Jonelle Fulmer, her bedazzled Trump-Pence pin sparkling in the hotel hallway light. "I've not heard a single dissenting voice. Everyone's very proud and supporting him."

The committee is also weighing party resolutions with titles such as "Resolution in Support of President Trump's National Security Strategy" and, in all caps, "RESOLUTION SUPPORTING PRESIDENT TRUMP'S RIGHT TO RESTORE SOUND POLICIES ON TRANSGENDER PERSONNEL IN THE MILITARY," according to a copy circulated by the RNC's member services team that was reviewed by McClatchy. The latter pushes back on court rulings that blocked Trump's proposed ban on transgender troops, and is a reminder of how the thrice-married New Yorker has endeared himself to social conservatives in the party.

Behind the scenes, not everyone is enamored with every word Trump says, even at the RNC. Some were deeply bothered by his reported rhetoric regarding immigrants from "shithole" countries, and others were troubled by the committee's decision to support Roy Moore -- the Alabama GOP Senate candidate accused of child molestation -- following Trump's lead on the issue. But overall, even those with quiet qualms are generally on board with Trump's agenda, a stark contrast from the infighting in 2016 over how far to go in backing up the then-GOP nominee.

"There are a lot of concerns that continue to exist, but the RNC is a political body," said someone who served on the RNC during the 2016 cycle and remains in contact with current members. "It's their job to win elections, and I would say they're definitely shifting into that mind frame right now.

 

"We're into an election year," the source continued. "People at the RNC are just getting into fighting mode. It's becoming less about whether or not they're comfortable defending Donald Trump, and more about putting 100 percent of their focus on defeating Democrats."

Yet some activists in attendance were well aware that the party can't rely on the Trump-loving base alone as they head into a midterm elections season that is expected to be challenging for Republicans.

Progressives are energized, the president's party historically faces headwinds in the midterms, and Trump's popularity is underwater, with more moderate suburbanites repeatedly rejecting his hard-edged style in special elections across the country over the last year. Those obstacles were top of mind for some attendees, especially those who represent more urban and suburban areas.

"Just about everyone who voted for him last time would continue to vote for him," said Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, who comes from the suburban Philadelphia area. "We're trying to find ways to break into the suburban areas and with women voters, so that's our challenge, but the base is still very much with him."

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