Donors gathered right down the street from his home in Mar-a-Lago – a sign that the party’s institutions continue to revolve around the former president, who wants to regain power in 2022.
Most of the RNC’s spring retreat took place a 10-minute drive south of Trump’s Club at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach. There, around 360 donors mingled with Republican officials on the beach at the beach hotel, including chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and co-chairman Tommy Hicks. But on Saturday evening, guests were driven up the road to Mar-a-Lago, where Trump addressed the withdrawal behind closed doors.
Trump went on to elaborate on debunked allegations that his election had been stolen, including detailed complaints about individual states, and insisted that the results were tampered with, the person in the room said. Alongside the insult to the Republican Senate Chairman, who received great applause, former President Dr. Anthony Fauci was extremely critical of and again targeted former Vice President Mike Pence who had failed him in certifying the electoral college results, according to the same person in the room.
The former president spoke broadly about party unity, complaining that Republicans don’t stick together as well as Democrats, the person said.
But McConnell, who blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 uprising, and Trump are already on the other side of at least one major Senate contest. Trump pledges to fight Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowksi, who was backed by a powerful McConnell party group. Trump pledged his commitment to the Republican Party to help it win majorities in the House and Senate in 2022, according to someone close to him. “And then, in 2024, a Republican candidate will win the White House,” Trump would say on CNN’s prepared remarks.
Trump encountered a populist message to align the party with its grassroots and against what he calls the “Beltway elite”. He also cracked down on President Joe Biden, according to his loved one.
“With such an unpopular agenda, it is no wonder that Joe Biden is the first new president in modern times who does not speak before a joint congressional session in his first few weeks,” Trump would say on prepared remarks.
With the party completely out of power in Washington for the first time in four years, GOP donors were keen to hear from leaders how Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024 can. But the question of how big a role Trump will and should play in the future of the GOP.
For the former president’s boosters, the weekend is another clear example of the party staying loyal to Trump.
“Saturday’s speech will be welcomed when Republican donors visit Mar-a-Lago to hear directly from President Trump,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, ahead of the remarks. “Palm Beach is the new center of political power and President Trump is the Republican Party’s best ambassador.”
Trump dominated the retreat even before his headlining event on Saturday. The possibility of him running for president again in 2024 remains a difficult reality for Republicans, who are also considering offers and trying to negotiate relationships with political benefactors.
While the Palm Beach location was a concession to convenience for Trump, the presence of other hopefuls from the Republican White House is meant to signal the RNC’s official policy of neutrality towards the 2024 area code.
Potential candidates include three of Florida’s top elected officials: Governor Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, and Tom Cotton, senator from Arkansas, both of whom may also run for president, also spoke at the retreat.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has taken steps suggestive of a run at the White House, was due to appear but did not.
Most of the donors who attended the retreat were both staunch Trump supporters – one was seen walking to the Four Seasons pool deck wearing a blue Make America Great Again ball cap on Friday – and loyal Republicans who supported the Wanted to rebuild the party.
This endeavor is more complicated for the sizable number of GOP donors who are not so in love with Trump but want to help the party regain power in Washington.
“Nobody knows what the Trump Effect will be like in 2022 or 2024. He made promises to elementary school (Republicans who don’t support him) so many of them don’t want to risk it,” said Fred Zeidman, a Republican donor from Texas who wasn’t in Palm Beach. “He hasn’t made a statement that it shouldn’t run in 2024, so this limits what anyone can do now for fear of alienating Trump supporters.”
The special closed press retreat guest list received from CNN shows a number of speakers firmly anchored in Trump’s Republican Party camp, including Kevin McCarthy, Minority Chairman of the House, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson Wisconsin Kellyanne Conway, former Trump White House adviser.
Former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and two rivals for the GOP Ohio Senate nomination – Jane Timken and Josh Mandel – who both touted their pro-Trump credentials, were also with the donors satisfied.
This story was updated with comments from Trump on Saturday night.
CNN’s Jamie Gangel contributed to this report.