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Here are the top stories for Sunday, April 11th: Iran calls Natanz blackout “nuclear terrorism”; Pentagon chief declares ‘ironclad’ commitment to Israel; Trump goes after Pence, McConnell at a donor event; Floral memorial for Prince Philip. (Apr. 11)
PALM BEACH, Fla. – While keynoting a weekend conference devoted to Republican unity, Donald Trump braced wealthy party donors with scathing attacks on GOP stalwarts like Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence and others.
Trump again called McConnell “a loser” during his Saturday night speech to the Republican National Committee spring retreat, and criticized Pence – his former vice president – for not backing efforts to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden, according to people in the room.
The ex-president also echoed plans to endorse allies and target enemies in GOP primaries next year, threatening more party divisions ahead of the 2022 congressional elections. Still, Trump told the party’s richest donors they should pursue his agenda in future elections.
“Our American First platform will lead the Republican Party back to power,” Trump said, according to a text of the speech.
Trump’s speech capped the RNC’s weekend “spring retreat,” a get-together devoted mostly to the idea of Republican unity – a challenging topic given Trump’s attacks on certain party members.
In addition to private discussions all over the Four Seasons beach resort, Republican lawmakers and donors held panel discussions Saturday on campaign plans, prior to departing for Mar-a-Lago and the Trump-hosted dinner. On Sunday, the Republican retreat attendees headed home.
The RNC closed all retreat activities to the press, including a Saturday event called the “Party Unity Panel.”
In another departure from previous ex-presidents, Trump is endorsing allies running in party primaries, often to retaliate against Republicans who favored impeachment after the Jan. 6 insurrection by pro-Trump protesters at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has also repeatedly attacked Republicans who criticized his efforts to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden, particularly Senate Republican leader and party kingmaker McConnell. Trump also vowed to next year support a primary challenger to another speech target, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Active involvement in primaries – unusual for any high-profile politician, especially an ex-president – threatens to split the party, making it harder to win closely contested congressional districts and states.
‘Not helpful for us fighting the battles in Washington’
Trump did not attack any Republicans in the advance text distributed before the speech. Two attendees, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private event, said Trump described his prepared speech as “boring,” and went off script to attack McConnell and others.
He called McConnell a “stone cold loser,” and drew gasps as he used a vulgarism to describe the Senate GOP leader (a variation of the term “son-of-a-gun”). He also mocked McConnell’s wife – his own former transportation secretary, Elaine Chao – who resigned in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
As for his vice president, Trump criticized Pence for refusing to hold up the counting of electoral votes in his capacity as president of the U.S. Senate. Pence said he lacked the legal authority to interference with the tabulation of electoral votes of states that elected Biden.
The president also repeated his unfounded claims of election fraud, accusations that have been rejected by judges, election officials and some Republican leaders. McConnell and others have said Trump’s false allegations helped trigger the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Aides to McConnell and Pence did not comment on Trump’s speech. Other Republicans denounced the former president’s rhetoric, saying it hurts the party as it tries to deal with the Biden administration and the coming elections.
“Anything that’s divisive is a concern and is not helpful for us fighting the battles in Washington and at the state level,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Cheney, appearing on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” said that by repeating false claims of voter fraud, Trump “is using the same language that he knows provoked violence on January 6th. You know, as a party, we need to be focused on the future.”
In previewing his 2022 strategy, Trump also trained fire on Biden. He attacked the new president over immigration and border policy, dealings with China, new talks on the Iran nuclear deal, and for holding off on a televised speech to Congress.
Trump’s speech also targeted what he called “woke corporations,” including Major League Baseball for its decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta because of new voting laws in Georgia.
Trump asks CPAC crowd in Florida, ‘Miss me yet?’
Former President Trump speaks to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, promises not to start a new political party.
Staff Video, USA TODAY
Congressional races in 2022 a key focus for Republicans
Predicting Republican victories in the 2022 congressional races and in the 2024 presidential race – if they follow his agenda – Trump’s text repeated a 2020 campaign mantra: “For our party, our movement, and our country, the best is yet to come.”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. – who has often called for party unity, and took a special trip to Palm Beach two months ago to speak with Trump about the 2022 elections – hosted a dinner Friday night at the RNC retreat in Palm Beach.
In his remarks, attendees said, McCarthy talked about another key element in next year’s elections: The drawing of new congressional districts. McCarthy also said Republicans should run against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and that “Retiring Nancy” should be a major campaign theme.
Planners devoted other Saturday panels to items most Republicans can agree on, including “Big Tech Censorship” and “Growing The Party.”
Party members who attended the retreat, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings, said GOP members believe they can work out problems between Trump and anti-Trump Republicans. “Our folks still like him,” one Republican said.
The 2024 presidential race is also on the minds of some Republicans.
Prospective presidential candidates who signed up for the retreat include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, , and both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.
There’s also Trump, who has said it is too early to decide whether he will run again in 2024.
In the meantime, GOP members are hopeful about next year’s congressional elections because Democrats hold narrow majorities in both the House and Senate.
The Democrats also have high hopes, and are using the Republican retreat to try and raise money for their candidates.
In a fundraising solicitations throughout the week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee warned supporters that Trump’s “top cronies” descended on Palm Beach for their biggest fundraiser of the year at Mar-a-Lago.
“Elite GOP donors are flooding in to raise the cash they’ll need to undo our Majority once and for all,” said a DCCC email on Saturday.
Democrats, who plan to make a Trump an issue in next year’s congressional elections, also made their presence felt in Palm Beach itself.
The Democratic National Committee sponsored a “moving billboard” that trucked South Ocean Boulevard between the Four Seasons and Mar-a-Lago, promoting the Biden administration’s efforts to end the COVID pandemic. “No thanks to Republicans,” billboard said.
DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa described the Republican donors and politicians as “mini-Trumps” hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, while Biden and the Democrats “are delivering for everyday Americans.”
Some current and former members said the Republican Party is already unified: They are firmly behind Trump, and that could lead to defeats like the one he took in last year’s presidential election.
Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman and now a Trump critic, said GOP members who oppose the ex-president have either left the party or given up.
Said Walsh: “It’s a unified, shrinking, dying party.”