It was supposed to be a unifying weekend for a Republican Party at war with itself over former President Donald Trump’s leadership.
But Trump himself shattered two days of relative peace when he broke with establishment Republicans in a scathing speech lashing out at unloyal former allies.
He made it clear that there’s no love lost between him and the establishment in D.C.
He called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a “dumb son of a b****,” according to reports.
He also mocked McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, Trump’s own former transportation secretary.
But he didn’t stop there, saying he was “disappointed” in his vice president, Mike Pence.
McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
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.
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“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.”
But establishment Republicans McConnell and Pence got more than some welcome words.
While a faction of the Republican Party hopes to move past Trump’s leadership, the location of the event — and the former president’s prominent speaking slot — suggests that the GOP is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.
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’s words reportedly 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.
McConnell and Chao have been particularly critical of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 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 Democrats in voting to impeach Trump for inspiring the Jan. 6 attack. Seven Republican senators later voted to convict Trump, who was ultimately acquitted after he had left office.
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 total commitment to the GOP is far from certain.
Earlier in the year, he raised the possibility of creating a new political party with his supporters.
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.”
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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 potential future 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article