In an address to top Republican National Committee donors on Saturday, former President Donald Trump revived false claims that he won the election and called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch” for not backing his efforts to overturn the results.
His remarks, which took place at a gathering that would typically be used by GOP leaders to reflect on their party’s recent loss of the White House and the Senate, underscored his continued devotion to sowing discord and spreading disinformation within a party still largely in thrall to him.
The location of the RNC donor retreat points to Trump’s strong grip on the party. Most of the events took place just a 10-minute drive south of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, at a Four Seasons resort. On Saturday night, participants — which included not just fundraisers but also Republican party officials and lawmakers — were shuttled to Mar-a-Lago to attend Trump’s private speech.
During his address, Trump remained true to his typical rhetorical style — boasting about himself and his record, attacking perceived adversaries or insufficiently loyal Republicans, and making inflammatory comments which signaled a disinterest in reevaluating the costs of his divisive approach to politics.
Trump appeared hung up on Republicans who did not side with him in his campaign to overturn the results of the election based on false claims of election fraud, slamming politicians like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who rebuffed Trump’s requests to alter the state’s Electoral College votes or otherwise overturn Georgia’s election results.
The former president reserved much of his venom for McConnell, who he called a “stone cold loser” and criticized for not blocking the Senate’s certification of the 2020 election results.
“If that were Schumer instead of this dumb son of a bitch Mitch McConnell they would never allow it to happen. They would have fought it,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post.
Trump also tried groundlessly to take credit for Covid-19 vaccine breakthroughs and floated the idea of referring to them as the “Trumpcine,” the Post reports.
In a gesture illustrating total commitment to his inflammatory political style and inclination to use racist tropes to express anti-immigrant sentiment, Trump said of immigrants: “They’re coming in from the Middle East. They’re not sending their best people. You have murderers, you have rapists, you have drug dealers.”
In 2015 he said something extremely similar about Mexican immigrants: “[Mexico] are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”
The Republican Party knows Trump is risky, but they need him for now
Trump’s speech probably did not surprise anyone in the room, but it drove home the predicament that the GOP finds itself in. On one hand, Republican Party elites know that his fondness for picking fights — with the media, with GOP politicians who don’t submit to him, with anyone who criticizes him — can act as a liability for the party by creating division and alienating moderates. On the other hand, Trump still has a great deal of popularity with the base, and the party doesn’t think it can afford to turn its back on him.
Trump’s fixation on McConnell, the most influential Republican lawmaker in Congress, is a reminder of how Trump can cause chaos in the midterms. He’s already vowed to do so — during the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, he said that the party should “get rid of” every Republican in Congress who voted to impeach or convict him in his second impeachment trial, shortly before he left office. He’s already endorsed Republican primary challengers to incumbent Republicans in the House, such as Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who joined the impeachment vote against him.
Trump’s behavior suggests that the Republican Party could be fighting on two fronts as the midterms approach — against both Democrats, and Trump-endorsed candidates meant to take out sitting Republican incumbents.
But Trump is still very popular with much of the party’s base
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken at the end of March shows 60 percent of Republicans believe Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him — and similarly, about 65 percent say he should run for president again in 2024.
That level of popularity and trust is why the RNC situated its retreat near Mar-a-Lago and had him as a headliner. It’s also why the organization uses Trump’s image to raise funds — something which has prompted Trump to issue a cease-and-desist letter.
Trump’s interest in a 2024 presidential run looms large as well. While he didn’t offer any new information on whether he’s seriously considering running again in 2024, he didn’t rule it out, either. That ambiguity, in turn, puts some pressure on 2024 hopefuls to define their candidacies in relation to him, whether that means opposing or adhering to his right-wing populist style and values.