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Trump Warns About Complacency In 2018 Midterms At CPAC


President Trump attended the annual Conservative Political Action Committee Conference (ph) outside Washington, D.C., today. Thousands of conservative activists greeted the president enthusiastically. President Trump boasted about his first-year accomplishments from tax cuts to naming Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But he also had a warning about this year's midterm elections. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: For the CPAC audience, there is plenty to like about President Trump. These are among the most active conservatives in the country. But Trump himself also knows that the cheers in this room aren't enough, so his speech today also included this as he looks ahead to this year's elections.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: See; the word really is complacent. People get complacent. It's a natural instinct. You get - you just won, and now you're happy and you're complacent. Don't be complacent.

GONYEA: He repeated that word over and over again with this warning about what big losses would mean.


TRUMP: Because if they get in, they will repeal your tax cuts.

GONYEA: That got a small groan of disapproval. Then he hit on the issue that did light up the room.


TRUMP: They'll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow to happen. They'll take away your Second Amendment.


GONYEA: The reaction to that went on and on.


GONYEA: It was Trump echoing the words of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre from just a day earlier at this same conference. Here's LaPierre.


WAYNE LAPIERRE: You know, I hear a lot of quiet in this room. And I sense your anxiety. And you should be anxious. And you should be frightened. If they seize power...

GONYEA: LaPierre and Trump both said one day apart if Democrats win control of the Congress this year, then Second Amendment rights protecting gun ownership are at risk. Both clearly see it as a motivating issue in a year when Republicans are indeed worried about energizing supporters. CPAC attendees told me that talking about protecting gun ownership and even promoting putting more weapons in schools will get conservatives to the polls. Jerry Feith is a retired former IRS worker from Maryland. He says it's a good issue, especially in battleground states.

JERRY FEITH: The Democratic Party, based upon their position, they don't want you to be safe. They don't want you to be secure. They don't want you to be successful.

GONYEA: And that'll get Trump voters out to vote?

FEITH: I think so, yeah, because safety is a big deal for most people. I mean, that's very basic.

GONYEA: But 23-year-old Caleb Wolfe, a business owner from Grand Rapids, Mich., isn't so sure the gun issue will be a big motivator.

CALEB WOLFE: I think that's - it's in voters' heads. But when they go to the booth at the end of the day, they really - I don't think it's a determining factor. I think it's going to come down to how much more money is in their pocketbook.

GONYEA: Wolfe adds that it's not like these are new issues. And then he added this.

WOLFE: I mean, unless there's all of a sudden a bunch more shootings up until the 2018 election - I mean, people have been trying to get gun control passed for years. People have been trying to, you know, have teachers concealed carry. And nothing ever really gets done. And I think people know that at this point.

GONYEA: But Wolfe acknowledges that the issue will likely dominate debate and campaign ads this year, something all but guaranteed by the president's speech today at CPAC. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Oxon Hill, Md. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.