LEWISTON — Tara Setmayer, a conservative commentator on CNN, calls herself one of “the sentinels in the watchtower” trying to help defend the republic against the danger posed by its own president.

She said Republican Donald Trump’s elevation to the nation’s highest office “is challenging and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Speaking to more than 100 people — most of them students — at Bates College on Tuesday, she called on Americans to guard their freedom and “stay vigilant.”

And the 41-year-old New Jersey native, who has worked for Republicans for years, also said “we need to pray” because Trump “has his finger on the button. He’s got the nuclear codes.”

Invited to speak by the Bates Republicans, Setmayer didn’t hesitate to launch a steady stream of vitriol at the man she called “the fakest, most-contrived person ever.”

But she also cautioned that the people who elected him — many of them struggling white working people in the Midwest — have legitimate fears that Trump tapped into to sell them on the unlikely notion that he can turn their lives around.

“These people, they’re just looking for an opportunity,” Setmayer said. “I feel for them.”

She said Trump exploited their anger and emotions to grab political power with his stream-of-consciousness rants and rallies. He manipulated them with the skill of P.T. Barnum, Setmayer said.

Molly Ryan, president of the Bates GOP, said her group believes strongly in free speech and in the sort of “diverse and robust debate” that Setmayer provides. She said she issued the invitation for the television personality to come speak so students would hear a perspective not often heard in college classrooms.

Setmayer said that since Trump jumped into the campaign almost two years ago, politics “has basically infected every area of our lives” constantly.

“It’s everywhere,” she said. “We are living in a real-life reality show” that she said is fascinating but also “scary as hell.”

She said the Republicans in 2015 had “a great roster” of candidates, but Trump somehow slipped past them all because of his name recognition and the fact that his foes fought so long with each other that he was able to grab and hold the lead.

No matter what he did or said, Setmayer declared, Trump was “like a bad horror movie — he just wouldn’t die.”

Setmayer, who hopes to run for office someday, said she’s been particularly disappointed in the many GOP elected officials who haven’t defended GOP values and denounced Trump.

“I see a lot of hypocrisy,” she said, as Republicans on Capitol Hill squirm to side with Trump even when it runs counter to the conservative values they’ve always espoused. “It’s like an alternative universe,” Setmayer said.

Setmayer said she’s particularly concerned about Trump’s ongoing assault on the media. She said the First Amendment is a vital freedom whose demise could lead to tyranny.

She also told students that shouting down speakers and protesting with violence, which has happened on some campuses, is off the mark as well. “You need to hear dissenting voices,” Setmayer said. “The real world does not have safe spaces.”

Setmayer said she’s upset by “the Gestapo craziness” of Trump’s efforts to rip immigrant families apart and his bullying of everyone who disagrees with him.

With no fixed ideas, a pattern of throwing “Trumper tantrums” on Twitter, and a constantly changing agenda, she said, the president is “dangerous in a lot of ways.”

But as long as people reject Trump’s “cult of personality” and stay true to American values, the country will emerge from his administration in four years “or, God forbid, eight” and move on, Setmayer said.

In the meantime, she said, “the Trump phenomena require a lot of national self-reflection” from both sides of the political divide.

“I’ve never been more challenged as a conservative and a Republican,” she said.

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