PALM BEACH, Fla. – As Floridians hit the beaches on a bright and sunny day, Donald Trump and wealthy Republicans huddled behind closed doors Saturday to discuss GOP unity – a challenging topic in the wake of last year’s presidential election.
Trump’s plans to endorse allies – and target enemies – in GOP primaries next year hanging over the party as they plan for the 2022 congressional elections, a major agenda item at this weekend’s Republican National Committee spring retreat.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Republican leaders and supporters to come together,” said the retreat agenda.
In addition to private discussions throughout the Four Seasons beach resort, Republican lawmakers and donors held panel discussions Saturday on campaign plans. They also prepared to attend a Trump-hosted dinner at his nearby Mar-a-Lago estate that includes a speech by the former president.
All the RNC activities are closed to the press.
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Trump adviser Jason Miller said “all Republican roads lead to Mar-a-Lago – Trump is still the straw that stirs the news cycle. His influence will be central to every speech and story line this week.”
One of Saturday’s events, according to the schedule, is called a “Party Unity Panel.”
In another departure from previous ex-president, 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.
President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 in Washington. Behind Trump is a portrait of President Andrew Jackson. (Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
Trump has also attacked Republicans who criticized his efforts to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden. That group includes Senate Republican leader and party kingmaker Mitch McConnell.
Other Republicans – including Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a member of House GOP leadership who voted for impeachment – have urged the party to move past Trump.
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.
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.
Saturday’s unity panel featured party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the leaders of the Republican congressional campaign arms: Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who heads up the National Republican Senate Committee.
Other Saturday panels are devoted to items most Republicans can agree on, including “Big Tech Censorship” and “Growing The Party.” The latter topic is important for a party that has struggled with women, African-American, and Hispanic voters, and lost ground in the suburbs in Trump’s defeat last year.
In the late afternoon, Republican donors board buses for a four-mile ride north to Mar-a-Lago, site of what the GOP billed as the “2021 Spring Soiree With 45th President Donald Trump.”
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, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 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’ margin in the House is 218-211, with six seats vacant due to deaths or appointments to the Biden administration. The Senate is tied 50-50, but Vice President Kamala Harris’ position as president of the Senate gives the Democrats political control since she can cast tie-breaking .
The Democrats also have high hopes, and are using the Republican retreat to try and raise money for their candidates.
In a fundraising solicitation this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee warned supporters that “Donald Trump’s top cronies will all descend on Mar-a-Lago for the BIGGEST Republican donor event of the year.”
Republican leaders said they believe opposition to Biden will unite their party.
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.
Trump’s control is obvious because “everyone who is considering running for president is making the pilgrimage to Florida to kiss the ring and, more importantly, echo Trump’s rhetoric,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.
“Those who have been critical of Trump – people like me – are the outliers,” Heye added
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.”
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