NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — If you had to pick between Second Amendment or tax cuts, what would you choose? For attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) Friday, the answer was surprisingly easy.
“[Democrats] will take away those massive tax cuts and they will take away your Second Amendment,” President Trump said during a long, winding speech Friday morning.
“By the way,” he added, “if you only had a choice of one, what would you rather have? The Second Amendment or the tax cuts? Go ahead!”
From the podium, Trump then shouted each — “Second Amendment! Tax cuts!” — and had the audience vote with their cheers. The Second Amendment overwhelmingly won the informal poll.
“I’m gonna leave it at the Second Amendment, I don’t want to get into that battle,” Trump said after the cheers. “We’re gonna say you want the Second Amendment the most. But we’re gonna get them all.”
It’s not clear why Trump pitted the Second Amendment and tax cuts against each other, as he has called for both throughout his presidency. But the Republican tax bill passed last year — which Trump described as providing tax cuts to everyone — offers only temporary tax cuts for individuals, expiring after eight years.
But following Trump’s speech, many CPAC attendees told ThinkProgress their choice between tax cuts and the Second Amendment was an easy one.
“If they take our Second Amendment — by the way, I’m working on my ninja skills, I don’t really care for guns… but I will defend our Second Amendment — but if they take our Second Amendment, they will take our First,” Tessa Mendoza, a member of the Deplorable Latinas group told ThinkProgress after the president’s speech.
Asked why she thought Trump pitted two issues that have been central to his platform against each other, Mendoza said it was “so the media knows that this is what’s important to us.”
According to Mendoza, Democrats want to rewrite the Constitution, and the live poll Friday was Trump’s way of sending a message that he won’t let that happen.
Leah Keller and Jessica Pearse, two college students going to school in Pennsylvania, took the poll as a way of taking a jab at liberals, teasing Democrats about what issues are most important to conservatives.
“I don’t think he meant much by it… It was a little quip,” Keller said, adding that she and everyone around her cheered for the Second Amendment.
“For me it comes back to the Constitution,” she said. “Second Amendment is in the Constitution, tax cuts aren’t in the Constitution.”
Keller said she thinks that, under Trump, both things — tax cuts and fierce protection of the Second Amendment — are possible, but she acknowledged that they’ll be hard fights.
“They’re going to get tough,” she said. “So, Second Amendment.”
Cathy Kirk of the Macomb Michigan County Republican Organization also told ThinkProgress she’d pick the Second Amendment.
“Taxes come and go, but once you take that Second Amendment away, it’s gone forever, so it’s very important to liberty and freedom,” she said after Trump finished his speech.
In the wake of Parkland, Kirk said she believes the Second Amendment is being “pulverized” and that Trump’s poll was a way to gauge where conservatives were on the issue.
Kirk also said she likes Trump’s plan for stopping another tragedy like Parkland.
“It was a horrible thing, nobody wants that to happen,” she said of the mass shooting that left 17 people dead last week. “I think [Trump’s] on the right track. What do we do to keep our children safe? We do, we arm everything, but we don’t arm our schools. So to take guns away, that’s where these people go.”
At least one attendee said he cheered for tax cuts — but he also cheered for the Second Amendment.
“I clap for everything, and the reason why I do is because President Trump makes me feel physically and mentally excellent,” said Jerry Feis, an attendee from Maryland who described himself as “76 years young.”
Feis said Trump’s speech Friday made it clear that the “Second Amendment is number one,” but that despite the poll, he didn’t see it as having to pick just one, either the Second Amendment or tax cuts.
“I don’t look at it in that fashion,” Feis said. “I don’t look at these [as] trade-offs.”
That wasn’t Feis’s only take on the president’s appearance Friday.
“See, I’m of sincere belief, [Trump’s] common sense and intellect, I believe his IQ is comparable to Einstein, because he’s very very smart,” Feis said. “Besides being physically and mentally excellent and alert, he analyzes and evaluates everything… I was fully satisfied with the speech.”