Addressing Republican National Committee donors and GOP officials at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, former President Donald Trump delivered more or less the same speech he’s been giving since losing the election nearly six months ago, as he continued to lie about the 2020 race and attack those perceived as not doing enough to help change its outcome. “I wish that Mike Pence had the courage to send it back to the legislatures,” Trump said of his vice president, reprising the complaint that led his supporters to chant “Hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the Capitol. “I like him so much. I was so disappointed.” Trump also denounced Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling the Kentucky lawmaker a “dumb son of a bitch” and mocking his wife, Elaine Chao, for resigning as transportation secretary in light of the January 6 attack. “She suffered so greatly,” Trump sneered, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s Palm Beach club was reportedly paid more than $100,000 to hold Saturday’s event, the headliner of the RNC’s spring retreat. Most of the gathering—the first of the former president’s boosters since his election loss—took place down the road, at the Four Seasons resort where “around 360 donors mingled poolside at the beachfront hotel with Republican officials, including chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and co-chair Tommy Hicks,” according to CNN. Trump loyalists such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senator Lindsey Graham, and former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway reportedly spoke at the retreat, as did a slew of potential 2024 presidential candidates, including Governors Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem and Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton. But attendees, including many lawmakers, made the 10-minute trip to Mar-a-Lago on Saturday to hear from the former president himself, whose attacks on McConnell reportedly drew frequent cheers from the room. Trump also signaled out Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, asking the crowd: “Have you ever seen anybody that is so full of crap?”
The roughly hour-long speech veered from Trump’s prepared remarks, a “boring” script he told guests he’d scrapped, the Post reports. Instead, he reiterated falsehoods about the election, such as continuing to declare victory in Pennsylvania and Georgia (both of which he lost to President Joe Biden) and railing against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who recently passed a voter suppression measure fueled by Trump’s debunked fraud claims. While Trump did not talk about running again, a possibility that looms large over the party, he did pledge to help the GOP take back control of the House and Senate in 2022 and eventually the White House in 2024. Ahead of the speech, Trump adviser Jason Miller told CNN that “Palm Beach is the new political power center, and President Trump is the Republican Party’s best messenger.” One donor who attended, Andrea Catsimatidis, chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, told the New York Times that “the party is still very much revolving around” Trump.
Some on the right took issue with Trump’s speech. Stephen Hayes, editor of The Dispatch, one of the few conservative outlets critical of Trump, tweeted that his “rigged” election rant was “all bullshit” and full of “provable, demonstrable lies”—and “virtually every elected GOPer knows it [and] most will tell you as much off the record.” (Indeed, the headline of Politico’s Playbook on Sunday noted how Republican donors are “privately” panning Trump’s speech.) Rep. Liz Cheney, one of only 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol, stood out from her GOP colleagues again on Sunday in calling out the former president’s dangerous rhetoric. “As a party, we need to be focused on the future,” she said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We need to be focused on embracing the Constitution, not embracing insurrection.”
Even though most Republican members of Congress sided with Trump over democracy on January 6, the former president complained Saturday night about the party not being in lockstep behind him. During his speech, Trump “said he was jealous of Democrats for sticking together to vote against him,” per the Post, calling on his coalition to exhibit such unity. The comment was a kind of meta moment, with the retreat itself reflecting the extent to which the GOP has become “a party thoroughly animated by a defeated incumbent,” the New York Times notes, “a bizarre turn of events in American politics.”
In an attempt to reorient the party, out of power for the first time in four years and especially aimless without Trump at its helm, Republicans have increasingly adopted “his preference for engaging in red-meat political fights.” Republicans nationwide are focused on voter suppression—fueled by Trump’s baseless election attacks—as well as culture war clashes and grievances with the media. “This is the beating heart of the Republican Party right now—the media has replaced Democrats as the opposition,” Republican strategist Scott Jennings told the Times. “The platform is whatever the media is against today, I’m for, and whatever they’re for, I’m against.”
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