Pence, Bannon urge US conservatives to unite behind Trump

WASHINGTON • US Vice-President Mike Pence and other top White House officials urged conservative activists to set aside differences and unite behind President Donald Trump's agenda stressing tough trade and immigration policies.

Addressing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in suburban Maryland, outside Washington, Mr Pence rallied the large group of Republicans who helped elect Mr Trump on Nov 8. "My friends, this is our time. This is the chance we've worked so hard for so long to see. This is the time to prove again that our answers are the right answers for America," Mr Pence said on Thursday.

Earlier that day, Mr Trump's chief strategist, Mr Steve Bannon, known as a forceful influence in the White House, made a rare public appearance to appeal for support for the Republican President. "We want you to have our back" in upcoming battles, Mr Bannon told the gathering, denouncing media criticism of Mr Trump.

The early days of the new administration have been marked by deep post-election divisions between Trump backers and liberals over the President's temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, as well as moves to increase deportations of illegal immigrants and build a wall on the border with Mexico.

While conservatives celebrate Mr Trump's role in delivering them victory in November's election, his agenda veers from traditional right-wing principles like limited government and open trade.

Republicans who control the White House and Congress are also arguing over how to dismantle and replace former Democratic president Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law. Mr Bannon and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus both sought to dispel a sense of disorder in the White House portrayed in media accounts.

Referring to media criticism of Mr Trump, Mr Bannon warned: "It's going to get worse every day" as Mr Trump presses forward with his 2016 campaign promises."

"If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken," said Mr Bannon, who formerly ran the confrontational right-wing website Breitbart News.

He blamed the "corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda" under Mr Trump.

The CPAC conference, once a fringe event but now decidedly in the Republican mainstream, is attended by around 10,000 activists.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, in remarks to the gathering, credited Mr Trump with revitalising the Republican Party's right wing.

"Every great movement ends up being a little bit sclerotic and dusty after a time, and I think they (conservatives) need an infusion of energy," she said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Pence, Bannon urge US conservatives to unite behind Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe