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Trump Goes After Pence, McConnell      04/12 06:17

   

   PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- It was supposed to be a unifying weekend for a 
Republican Party at war with itself over former President Donald Trump's 
divisive leadership. But Trump himself shattered two days of relative peace in 
his closing remarks to the GOP's top donors when he insulted the party's Senate 
leader and his wife.

   Ahead of the invitation-only speech at Trump's new home inside his 
Mar-a-Lago resort, the former president's advisers said he would emphasize his 
commitment to his party and Republican unity.

   Trump veered sharply from prepared remarks Saturday night and instead 
slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a "stone-cold loser" 
and mocked McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, who was Trump's transportation 
secretary.

   Trump also said he was "disappointed" in his vice president, Mike Pence, and 
used a profanity in assessing McConnell, according to multiple people in 
attendance who were not authorized to publicly discuss what was said in a 
private session. He said McConnell had not thanked him properly for putting 
Chao, who was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, in his Cabinet.

   McConnell's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment 
Sunday.

   Trump's words left some attendees feeling uncomfortable.

   Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not defend Trump as he left Palm 
Beach on Sunday.

   "We are much better off if we keep focusing on the Democrats. Period," 
Gingrich said.

   Saturday's speech was the final address of the Republican National 
Committee's weekend donor summit in Palm Beach. Most of the RNC's closed-door 
gathering was held at a luxury hotel a few miles away from Mar-a-Lago; 
attendees were bused to Trump's club for his remarks.

   While a significant faction of the Republican Party hopes to move past 
Trump's divisive leadership, the location of the event -- and the former 
president's prominent speaking slot -- suggests that the GOP, at least for now, 
is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.

   Ahead of his latest attack on fellow Republicans, Trump's team reported that 
his remarks were intended to reinforce his continued leadership role in 
Republican affairs, a sharp break from past presidents.

   "Saturday's speech will be welcomed words to the Republican donors visiting 
Mar-a-Lago to hear directly from President Trump," Trump adviser Jason Miller 
said. "Palm Beach is the new political power center, and President Trump is the 
Republican Party's best messenger."

   The new tension between Trump and establishment-minded Republican leaders 
comes as GOP officials are trying to play down an internal feud over his role 
in the party, his commitment to Republican fundraising and his plans for 2024. 
Trump is also continuing to insist that the last election was "stolen" from 
him, repeating false claims that Joe Biden won the election only because of 
voter fraud.

   Such claims ultimately fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

   McConnell and Chao have been particularly critical of Trump's role in 
encouraging the insurrection; Chao resigned her post in protest. Pence, 
meanwhile, presided over a congressional session that certified Biden's 
election victory over Trump.

   Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., was among 10 House Republicans who joined every 
Democrat in voting to impeach Trump for inspiring the Jan. 6 attack. Seven 
Republican senators later voted to convict Trump, even after he had left office.

   "The former president is using the same language that he knows provoked 
violence on Jan 6. As a party, we need to be focused on the future, we need to 
be focused on embracing the Constitution, not embracing insurrection," Cheney 
told CBS' "Face the Nation."

   Trump and his allies have already promised to fuel primary challenges 
against Cheney and those Republicans who supported his impeachment.

   And while the Republican National Committee signaled its commitment to Trump 
by hosting its spring donor summit at his doorstep, Trump's commitment to the 
GOP is far from certain.

   Earlier in the year, he raised the possibility of creating a new political 
party. Just a month ago, Trump's political action committee sent letters to the 
RNC and others asking them to "immediately cease and desist the unauthorized 
use of President Donald J. Trump's name, image, and/or likeness in all 
fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech."

   GOP officials saw Trump's weekend participation as a sign that he is willing 
to lend his name to the party. At the same time, he continues to aggressively 
accumulate campaign cash to fuel his own political ambitions.

   Trump has accumulated a total of roughly $85 million so far, a small fortune 
that rivals the RNC's bank account. He has teased the prospect of another 
presidential run in 2024, but has also positioned himself to play the role of 
kingmaker for Republicans who may run if he does not.

   The weekend gathering featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Arkansas Sen. 
Tom Cotton, among other early 2024 prospects.

   In his remarks Friday night, Cotton leaned into the GOP's culture wars, 
attacking the Democrats' positions on transgender youth, voter ID laws and 
Major League Baseball's decision to move its All-Star Game to protest 
Republican voting laws.

   DeSantis, who spoke before Trump on Saturday night, also seized on 
corporations and business leaders who have begun joining the Democrats' fight 
against GOP-backed voting legislation moving through state legislatures across 
the country, including Florida. Critics and voting experts suggest the new laws 
would make it more difficult for Black Americans and Latinos to cast ballots.

   DeSantis specifically warned Saturday that there would be "consequences" for 
business leaders who pressure lawmakers in Florida as they did in Georgia. But 
neither DeSantis nor Cotton attacked any fellow Republicans.

   Meanwhile, the second-ranking Republican senator, South Dakota's John Thune, 
gently condemned Trump's attack on McConnell.

   "I think a lot of that rhetoric is -- you know, it's part of the style and 
tone that comes with the former president," Thune said on "Fox News Sunday." 
"But I think he and Mitch McConnell have a common goal, and that is getting the 
majority back in 2022. And in the end, hopefully that will be the thing that 
unites us, because if we want to defeat and succeed against the Democrats and 
get that majority back, that's the best way to do it."

 
 
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