Trump's warm CPAC reception reflects conservatives' embrace

PHOTO: President Donald Trump pumps his fist after delivering remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23, 2018, in Oxon Hill, Md.PlayEvan Vucci/AP
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President Donald Trump's warm, freewheeling, campaign-style speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday demonstrated his comfort with the conservative movement and how he’s taken on its mantle as leader.

The Trump administration has dominated the conservative gathering with high profile panel appearances. And the president capped that domination in his hour-plus remarks to a crowd that responded to him in much the same style as his campaign rallies: multiple standing ovations and repeated shouts of “Lock her up” and “Build a wall.”

“He’s done a lot of listening to conservative leaders over the years and his agenda is a conservative agenda,” Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, told ABC News. “I would say right now the relationship is blooming, it’s blossoming.”

It was a marked difference from 2016 when then-candidate Trump pulled out of the conference at the last minute, which Schlapp, at the time, called “disappointing.”

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also praised Trump as the party's best messenger for the coming 2018 midterm elections.

"There is no better messenger for our party that gets that enthusiasm going and who relates to the voters how much we need them more than the President," McDaniel said.

PHOTO: A man cries as President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Maryland, Feb. 23, 2018. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
A man cries as President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Maryland, Feb. 23, 2018.

Members of Team Trump packed the agenda at the four-day conference in National Harbor, Md. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the crowd on Thursday as did Eric Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In addition to Trump’s appearance on Friday, adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke to the gathering as did Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

It was also notable who did not address the crowd: Former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who was warmly received at CPAC just a year ago, was no where to be seen this year and his absence seemed barely notable, an indication of just how much this movement has shifted to the president.

Congressional leaders Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also did not attend.

Speaking to a packed room Trump seemed happy to be the leader of the conservative cause.

“We’ve proved I’m a conservative,” he told the cheering crowd, some of whom waved campaign-style signs and others of whom wore red “Make America Great Again” caps.

And, at multiple times during the speech, Trump implored the crowd to elect more Republicans in the 2018 midterms, which will be the first national referendum on his presidency.

“Right now we have a big race coming up in '18. You have to get out. Get that enthusiasm, keep it going. See the word really is complacent. People get complacent. You just won, you're happy and you get complacent. Don't be complacent,” he said.

PHOTO: Young supporters cheer as President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23, 2018 in National Harbor, Md. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Young supporters cheer as President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 23, 2018 in National Harbor, Md.

The president reminded the crowd the party that holds the Oval Office often loses seats in Congress during the next midterm election, a fear Republicans are battling as they head into November.

Democrats are hopeful they can take control of at least one chamber of Congress in the next year, which would allow them to block the president’s agenda.

The 2018 midterms were a hot topic of conversation among the attendees with other Republicans asked about GOP chances in November.

“I think it could be a fight here for Republicans. We just have to go out and keep fighting hard,” said conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, who founded the House Freedom Caucus.

But Jordan didn’t bite when asked if GOP leadership would have to pay the price if the party loses the House this year.

“We’ve never been afraid of pushing but we feel the midterms are going to go well for our party,” he said.

PHOTO: Ana Veronica Lacayo cheers as President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23, 2018. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock
Ana Veronica Lacayo cheers as President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23, 2018.

Trump also hit the Democratic Party hard during his remarks. He called out House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by name, claiming she wants to take away Second Amendment rights, which garnered boos from the crowd.

The president’s speech was also filled with meaty lines designed to appeal to the conservative crowd.

“We go out and salute the American flag and we put our hands on our heart for the pledge of allegiance. And we stand for the national anthem,” he said of conservatives as the crowd gave him a standing ovation and shouted “USA USA.”

He also did a little self-mocking, to the crowd’s delight.

“What a nice picture that is, look at that. I’d love to watch that guy speak,” the president joked in reference to the screens in the room projecting his image. He then did a 360-turn on the stage and put his hands up to his hair – as if he were styling it.

“I try like hell to hide that bald spot folks. I work hard.”

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps contributed to this story.