Once skeptics, conservatives out to expand Trump's base

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A supporter of President Trump poses for a photo next to a figure during Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

OXON HILL, Md. – Four years ago, candidate Donald Trump didn’t bother attending the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, jabbing that he was too controversial for the buttoned-up, establishment Republican gathering.

This year, as bedrock conservatives gather outside the nation’s capital for the conference, they're working on how to sell Trump's brand of Republicanism beyond the party faithful.

Ralph Cropley, 50, who came from upstate New York, recalls feeling skeptical of Trump when he didn’t show up for the 2016 conference. He's since been won over.

“He made all these promises, and every politician does,” Cropley said. “The difference is he seems to be actually working to fulfill every one of those.”

With the 2020 election just eight months away, Trump campaign advisers see the gathering as a golden opportunity to train hardcore activists to push the Trump message beyond the converted.

The conference has featured multiple “Words That Work” sessions — covering abortion, health care, immigration and more — tailored to teaching conservative faithful how to amplify and sell the president's message.

The effort comes as the Trump campaign is feeling increasingly optimistic about the president’s reelection chances following his acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial and amid signs that Democrats might be headed toward a drawn-out and fractious battle to pick their nominee to oppose him.

Trump himself will address CPAC activists on Saturday, his fourth straight address to the group since his election in 2016.