Fleitz dominated the conversation and took up a plurality of the speaking time. Saying he had discussed North Korea policy with Trump just ten days previously, he called walking away from the Hanoi summit “an act of leadership.” “If only John Kerry had done that when negotiating that disastrous deal with Iran, we’d be a lot better off,” he said. When asked about National Security Advisor John Bolton’s yellow notepad proscribing 5,000 troops be sent to Venezuela (which he praised as “an expert operation of diplomacy), Fleitz speculated that Bolton had been “pranking the press.” “Mr. Bolton has a sense of humor,” assured Fleitz, who has served as Bolton’s Chief of Staff both at the State Department and National Security Council. While saying that “Guaido is the legal, acting president,” Fleitz does not believe Trump has plans to invade Venezuela.
Senator Ernst made clear that our position towards North Korea should be that “we require the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.” A veteran herself, she did have pushback against endless deployments, saying we should be cautious about where we send our troops and that she wanted a “thorough discussion” before any action was taken. Ernst received applause after mentioning U.S. support for Ukraine “in their war against Russia,” mentioning that a Ukrainian general had told her it was U.S. Javelin missiles that had pushed back Russian tanks.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke to CPAC on Friday afternoon, delivering the conservative boilerplate speeches he’s been known for decades for. Telling his audience that Trump had made the strongest military in the history of the world stronger, Pence’s reference to the new space force received a huge round of applause. Since the ISIS caliphate had been “decimated,” it was possible for the United States to leave Syria. But Pence assured the audience that “we will keep a strong presence in the region” and empower our allies. Naming Iran the leading state-sponsor of terror, Pence said that “the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and seeks the means to achieve it.” He reiterated that the Trump administration will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Donald Trump’s lengthy address on Saturday was the opposite of his Number Two’s perfectly prepared remarks. Slamming the “blunders” of the old “elites,” Trump said that “It wasn’t America first, in many cases it was America last.” Recounting a conversation with President Xi Jinping of China, Trump asked him “How did you get away with this for so long?” Xi responded, “Because nobody ever asked us to change.”
Following long digressions on the media’s portrayal of him, trade protectionism, and the Mueller investigation, Trump mentioned Syria. “They wanna fight, they just like to fight,” he said, describing his critics who oppose withdrawal. He shared a story about meeting a “General Raisin Cane,” that must be heard to be done justice. And after describing going dark on Air Force One during his New Year’s trip to visit American troops in Iraq, Trump said “We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, and we can’t land a plane with the lights on.”
After over two hours, Trump concluded with North Korea summit in Hanoi. He said that he hadn’t given Chairman Kim Jong-un anything, and that he wants a “good deal.” Referencing the flack he’s received for defending Kim in the death of American student Otto Warmbier, Trump said negotiations are about finding a “delicate balance.” But there wasn’t much delicacy at CPAC.
Hunter DeRensis is a reporter at The National Interest.