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Conservatives on Trump: 2015 vs. 2016 vs. 2017
02:38 - Source: CNN

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How the conservative base sees the first 100 days

Big promises like Obamacare, tax reform, and border wall are TBD

CNN  — 

One accomplishment for President Donald Trump in his first 100 days: winning over a key group that hasn’t always been on his side – the conservative grassroots.

A former pro-choice reality TV star from Fifth Avenue, candidate Trump wasn’t conservative catnip, but now conservative thought leaders say they are firmly behind Trump because they believe he is sticking to his campaign promises. 

“I wasn’t sure, quite frankly, that candidate Trump really believed the things he was saying,” said Terry Jeffrey, the editor-in-chief of “Reinstating the Mexico City policy, defunding the UNFPA, naming a justice to the Supreme Court that he took from a list that conservatives put together – that showed that he’s serious about the things he campaigned on,” he explained.

Since the beginning of the presidential race in 2016, we have been checking in with conservative leaders to get a sense of the movement’s thinking about the candidates, the primaries, and the general election. This week we sat down with three conservative leaders to talk about the beginning of the Trump administration. And, in the span of less than two years, these conversations have done a 180. What was once reticence – even rejection – is now a full embrace.

“Our supporters are behind what he is doing and approve of the job that he is doing by like 95-96%,” said Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.

That group waited until late September 2016 to endorse the Republican nominee. “We were working on down ballot races,” she said at the time as an explanation for why they had waited so long. “We needed to see that through before we turned our attention to the general election.”

Back in March 2016, Martin’s opinion was even starker. In an op-ed warning Trump’s supporters against him, she wrote “If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination for president, there are only two possible outcomes: Either he will win the general election, or he will lose it. Either outcome would be a disaster for conservatives and the Tea Party.”

When asked now whether his presidency has been a disaster for conservatives, Martin echoed a sentiment very similar to Jeffrey’s. She is convinced Trump will follow through on campaign promises like repealing Obamacare, tax reform, and a secure border.

“I think that all of those things show that what I said back in March of 2016, I wasn’t right,” she said frankly. “He’s proving that he’s keeping his promises, unlike most politicians who come to Washington.”

Other leaders we have spoken with since 2015 like David McIntosh, president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, have had similar evolutions. When we spoke with McIntosh in September 2016, he said: “”we concluded after the primary season last year, we didn’t have a strong endorsement for [Trump].”

But now, Club for Growth is offering praise for the administration’s first 100 days, and a full endorsement of Trump’s tax plan saying in a release, “The Trump Administration’s tax reform proposal is massively pro-growth” and urging House Republicans to support it.

So far, the specific promises Martin listed – repealing Obamacare, tax reform, and a secure border – have not been fulfilled.

But other actions, like withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and getting Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, have made some supporters of the President point the finger at Republicans in congress rather than the White House. 

“In Washington it takes two to tango, not only the Executive Branch but it takes the Legislative Branch getting in sync with one another, “said Ken Blackwell, who was a domestic policy adviser to the Trump transition and serves on the boards of the NRA, Club for Growth, and as a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.

Jeffrey offered a warning to lawmakers about midterms elections in 2018: “If the Republicans in Congress thwart the agenda that President Trump was elected on, they will get thrown out of office, not him.”

When it comes to the power of influence, Blackwell said Trump listens to the people in the room, and he has given conservative leaders a seat at the table. He said, “[Trump] is very transactional and he is not guided by a set of hardcore, unchangeable liberal or conservative principles and as a consequence, what you want to get the first thing that you want to do is be at the table.”

Blackwell went on to say, “If you make the best case, if in fact your case suits the circumstances of the moment, he in fact will go with you.”

Martin argues it was her seat at the table that helped give power to the conservative position on healthcare. She was part of a small group of conservative leaders invited to the White House in March during negotiations over the bill that eventually collapsed in the House.

“We also know that when we feel like we’ve got to raise the flag and say hey, wait; you’re missing the mark more than anything we expected, we need to stop and take a bit more time; in the case of the Healthcare Bill, it worked,” she said.

But, the President’s newly found support from conservative groups may always be conditional.

Martin offered a subtle warning about the terms of their continuing support, “The message that we have for politicians is when you do the right thing, and you stand for personal freedom and economic freedom and work towards a debt free future, we are going to stand and fight with you and we will have your back, but when you are veering from that and we disagree, we’re going to hold you accountable.”