This year's Western Conservative Summit traditionally draws many of the biggest names in Republican politics, including Donald Trump, who was among the headliners last year when he was the GOP presidential nominee. But thus far, neither Trump nor any key members of his team have confirmed that they'll attend the 2017 version, scheduled to take place July 21-23 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, prompting organizers to launch a Twitter campaign intended to use the power of the president's favorite social-media tool to get him and his closest helpers to commit.
The tactic worked in 2016. "We did it with Trump last year," says Jeff Hunt, chief organizer of the Summit under the auspices of the Centennial Institute, an affiliate of Colorado Christian University. "His hashtag was #GetTrumpToTheSummit."
This year, the hashtag has been altered to #GetTrumpTeamToTheSummit, since Hunt and company would like to snare not only Trump, but also Vice President Mike Pence, counselor Kellyanne Conway and Cabinet officials Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke and Jeff Sessions. An e-mail blast to the Centennial Institute list sent out this week includes links to the following tweets:
We want Trump Administration at Western Conservative Summit! #GetTrumpTeamToTheSummit @realDonaldTrump @mike_pence @KellyannePolls #WCS17
We want Trump Administration at Western Conservative Summit! #GetTrumpTeamToTheSummit @SecretaryCarson @SecretaryPerry @BetsyDeVosED #WCS17
We want Trump Administration at Western Conservative Summit! #GetTrumpTeamToTheSummit @EPAScottPruitt @SecretaryZinke @jeffsessions #WCS17
Carson is a past Summit attendee, as Hunt notes. "We had six or seven different presidential candidates a couple of years ago, and that was fun. And this year, conservatives have the executive branch, and that's who our audience wants to hear from, first and foremost — the different secretaries and Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Pence and President Trump. It's a little bit taller hill to climb these days, so we're hoping that maybe a little social-media presence will create some momentum. They'll hear from us and hear that our attendees really want them to attend, and they'll come on out."
Trump's appearance at the event last year was seen as a problematic one in some quarters. The headline of a roundup post by our Ana Campbell, headlined "Donald Trump Has a No Good, Very Bad Day in Denver" spotlighted a large protest against Trump outside the Colorado Convention Center. During it, Josie Valadez Fraire, also known as the Sage Smudge Lady, was briefly taken into custody and cited for conducting a Native American purification ceremony at the site; the charges were later dropped.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is a past attendee of the Western Conservative Summit.
For his part, Hunt downplays the demonstration. "We didn't have a single protester inside the event, so Trump's speech wasn't interrupted at all," he points out. "And he was the top-rated speaker at the Summit last year. He was number one — and that gives you a sense about how the people in the room felt."
Since then, of course, the Trump administration has been embroiled in controversy, with investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election touching on topics as serious as obstruction of justice and treason. But such matters haven't hardened the hearts of Summit attendees against Trump, Hunt insists: "They love him, and they'd love to have him back."
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If Trump and his pals cold-shoulder the Summit, there'll still be plenty of prominent conservatives on the bill, including journalist Katie Pavlich, onetime United Nations ambassador John Bolton, Senator Cory Gardner, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and District Attorney George Brauchler, the first 2018 candidate for governor in Colorado to sign up. Hunt hopes other gubernatorial hopefuls will follow suit, including Ed Perlmutter, Mike Johnston and others on the Democratic side of the ledger. "If you're going to be seeking statewide office in Colorado, you can't be afraid of a few thousand conservatives," Hunt says. "And I guarantee they'll be treated respectfully."
Prior to last year, no major party presidential nominee had attended the Summit; in 2012, Mitt Romney sent a video. And Trump waited until almost the last minute to put the bash on his schedule, confirming only about three weeks ahead of time. That gives Hunt about three weeks to campaign via Twitter for Trump and his pals to book flights to Colorado for the July get-together.
"What I'm seeing right now on social media is a lot of people pushing our messages out," he maintains. "We're hoping the president and his team are seeing them and they'll come on out. There may be protesters outside, but inside the event, the water's warm."