In speech to donors, Donald Trump blasts Mitch McConnell as a 'loser' while Republicans seek unity

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PALM BEACH, Fla. – As Floridians hit the beaches this weekend, Donald Trump and wealthy Republicans huddled behind closed doors to discuss GOP unity – a challenging topic given Trump’s attacks on certain party members  over last year’s election loss.

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Trump again called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “a loser” in a Saturday night speech to the Republican National Committee spring retreat, according to people in the room. The ex-president also echoed plans to endorse allies and target enemies in GOP primaries next year, threatening party divisions ahead of the 2022 congressional elections.

© Alex Brandon, AP 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.

While describing McConnell as a “stone cold loser,” and attacking Republicans for refusing to back his election protests, Trump also told the party’s wealthiest donors that they should pursue his agenda in future elections.

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“Our American First platform will lead the Republican Party back to power,” Trump said, according to a text of the speech.

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.

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The Saturday schedule at the retreat included an event called a “Party Unity Panel,” one of the challenges facing Republicans this election cycle.

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. He also vowed to support a primary challenger next year to another speech target, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

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.

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.

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.

In previewing his 2022 strategy, Trump trained fire on the Biden administration. He plans to attack 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.

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.

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.

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Planners devoted other Saturday panels 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 and voters of color, which led to difficulties in the suburbs in Trump’s defeat last year.

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 to figure out how to outspend their opponents.

“Trump and his Republicans are holding their BIGGEST fundraiser of the year at Mar-a-Lago,” said a DCCC email on Saturday. “Elite GOP donors are flooding in to raise the cash they’ll need to undo our Majority once and for all.”

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,” said one side of the billboard.

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.”

Republican leaders said they believe opposition to Biden and his big-spending plans 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.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In speech to donors, Donald Trump blasts Mitch McConnell as a ‘loser’ while Republicans seek unity

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