A slew of well-heeled Republican National Committee donors descended on Palm Beach this weekend, excited to be schmoozed, eager for access to DONALD TRUMP and other potential 2024 nominees, but mostly interested in hearing how far their dollars would go toward winning back the Congress and White House.
Trump’s speech didn’t do any of that.
“It was horrible, it was long and negative,” one attendee with a donor in the room tells Playbook. “It was dour. He didn’t talk about the positive things that his administration has done.”
Instead, Trump used the final night of the retreat to talk about himself, his grievances and how he plans to enact retribution against those who voted to impeach him — which runs counter to the donors’ main objective of making sure their dollars go toward winning overall.
Trump’s biggest applause line, according to sources in the room, was when he said the GOP would win back the House 2022 and the presidency in 2024. He lavished praise on Florida Gov. RON DESANTIS, South Dakota Gov. KRISTI NOEM, and Wisconsin Sen. RON JOHNSON. But when he was harshly critical of people like former VP MIKE PENCE and Senate Republican Leader MITCH MCCONNELL, few people applauded.
Many major donors have been fed up with Trump’s antics since Jan. 6. While Trump was speaking, we spotted at least two — both of whom received prominent appointments during his administration — out dining with friends at a local restaurant in Palm Beach rather than sitting through the former president’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
As Playbook and the New York Times have reported, Trump has become a complication for donors. They don’t want their money going toward his retribution efforts. Remember: These are exorbitantly wealthy people — some with egos as big as Trump’s — and they are not interested in hearing about how another rich guy had his ego bruised. The fact that they even had to shuttle from the Four Seasons resort where the retreat was being held to Mar-a-Lago for Trump’s speech was enough of a sign of fealty to Trump, donors told us.
Trump’s lack of interest in the state of the Republican Party also creates a problem for fundraising: Per the NYT, Trump’s new fundraising enterprise has $85 million in cash on hand, while the RNC has $84 million. This comes just days after the RNC officially responded to a cease-and-desist demand from Trump’s lawyers over the use of his likeness for fundraising. It’s just a reminder that the party can’t quit Trump — which GOP fundraiser Fred Zeidman told the NYT was “a tremendous complication.”
WHAT TRUMP SAID — Pretty much what we all have come to expect:
— Lots of name-calling: McConnell was a “dumb son of a bitch” and “stone cold loser” for not falling in line with Trump’s argument that he won the election. He knocked Georgia Gov. BRAIN KEMP for failing to find votes to make him president again. And of ANTHONY FAUCI, he asked, “Have you ever seen anybody that is so full of crap?” per WaPo’s Josh Dawsey.
— More election conspiracies, according to NYT’s Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin — this time something about Facebook spending half a billion on some sort of “lockbox” marking votes? Who can follow this stuff anymore?!
— Trump also called President JOE BIDEN, “Saintly Joe Biden” — and my goodness, just reading these stories, you see for the umpteenth time the almost dizzying difference between the 45th and 46th presidents …
— ALEX ISENSTADT has more here, including a nugget that Trump also went after McConnell’s wife, former Transportation Secretary ELAINE CHAO, for resigning her cabinet post after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Notably, Trump allowed DeSantis to share the stage with him. While Trump used his speech to share with donors that he was “disappointed” in Pence, he has privately told advisers that if he runs again, he wants DeSantis as his running mate.
Also spotted out during Trump’s speech at Mar-a-Lago: RUDY GIULIANI having dinner at Café L’Europe in Palm Beach. Giuliani told Playbook he spent time with Trump on Friday, and that the former president was finally over his 2020 loss and was ready to move forward. Giuliani said he was in town to work on his book, and that he’s spoken with Trump many times since the election but just doesn’t “publicize it.”
— Related: Despite the situation in South Florida, AP has a slightly different take on the ex-president, headlined “Trump addresses GOP as power to shape national debate wanes.”
THE NO SHOWS — Per Shane Goldmacher, MIKE POMPEO had been skedded to speak Saturday night but didn’t show. Kyle Mazza said neither did Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.). Someone announced her father was ill and given “only 24 hours to live.” (How awful! Sending thoughts.)
MEANWHILE … “Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel escorted out of RNC retreat,” Axios: “Despite not having his name on the list [for an invitation-only donor soiree], Mandel seized on the opportunity to get some face time with top Republican donors while they all were in one place, one source familiar with his plans told Axios.”
TWEET OF THE DAY AT THE RNC — CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan interviewing an RNC guest, who asks: “What is so terrible about conspiracy theories anyway?”
Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook on your day off, where we’re bringing you flashbacks to the past four years … Congress returns Monday after a two-week recess — and so does Rachael from a book-writing hiatus. April is gonna be lit on the Hill, as the kids say these days. Get ready, and send your best news tips this-a-way: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
BIDEN’S SUNDAY — Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS have nothing on their public schedules.
SUNDAY SHOW BEST
HUTCHINSON DEFENDS HIS VETO … Chuck Todd had a fascinating interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Republican Arkansas Gov. ASA HUTCHINSON, who pushed back on his party’s move to use the government as a tool to enforce its culture war.
— On why he vetoed the legislation that would restrict health care for transgender kids: “It did not protect the youth. It interfered with the government getting into the lives of transgender youth, as well as their parents and the decisions that doctors make. And to me, it’s about compassion. But it is also about making, having the laws make sense in a limited role of government … [A]s Republicans, we need to get back and ask the question: ‘Is this the appropriate role of government? Are we restraining ourselves?’”
— More from Hutchinson: “The fear is that we’re losing our culture … just because you want to keep things as they have been, you don’t need to use the instrument of the law. You don’t need to use the state to accomplish that purpose in every instance. There is the church; there is society; there is your community.”
BIDEN’S CABINET HITS THE SHOWS: Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG weighs in on the “What is infrastructure?” debate on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “If there are Senate Republicans who don’t agree, we can agree to disagree on what to call it. I’m still going to ask you to vote for it. To me, it makes no sense to say, ‘I would have been for broadband, but I’m against it because it’s not a bridge. I would have been for elder care, but I’m against it because it’s not a highway.’”
— Related: The self-imposed deadline … Both Buttigieg and Energy Secretary JENNIFER GRANHOLM — on ABC’s “This Week” — said that the president wants to see progress made on the infrastructure bill by Memorial Day.
2024 WATCH — “Could Ron DeSantis Be Trump’s G.O.P. Heir? He’s Certainly Trying.” NYT: “Mr. DeSantis’s political maneuvering and extensive national donor network have allowed him to emerge as a top Republican candidate to succeed Mr. Trump on the ballot in 2024 if the former president does not run again. The governor’s brand of libertarianism — or ‘competent Trumpism,’ as one ally called it — is on the ascent. Seizing on conservative issues du jour like opposition to social media ‘censorship’ and vaccine passports, he has forged strong connections with his party’s base.”
SCOTUS WATCH — “Supreme Court leaves major conservative cases waiting in the wings, from abortion to guns,” USA Today: “Rather than handing conservatives a string of wins, the Supreme Court has left advocates on the right grasping for answers about high-profile cases.”
BIDEN AGENDA ABOUT TO HIT HILL REALITY — When Congress returns from its two-week recess, the Biden agenda will face a critical test on Capitol Hill. As Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim write in WaPo today, liberals are pushing Biden left on infrastructure; moderate Dems are calling for bipartisanship. And Republicans? Well, they’re pissed about Biden suggesting they didn’t try to negotiate with him during the Covid relief negotiations. (Recall that the moderate GOPers did make a Republican counter-offer, but Biden never countered the counter…)
From the WaPo story: “President Biden’s legislative ambitions face a crucial test in the narrowly divided Congress this month, with key Democratic senators signaling they want to pump the brakes as party leaders move to quickly pivot from last month’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief act to an even larger infrastructure and jobs bill and other pressing policy items. Republican leaders, meanwhile, are beginning to mount fierce opposition to those plans, even as a subset of GOP centrists share rising frustration about a lack of meaningful outreach from Biden, who has billed himself as a bipartisan dealmaker.
— In other words… “Biden’s infrastructure plan heads for the Senate shredder,” by our Megan Cassella.
WELL WISHES! — “Rep. Crenshaw says he will be temporarily blind after emergency eye surgery,” by Ben Leonard: “Rep. Dan Crenshaw will be ‘effectively blind’ for about a month and ‘off the grid’ for the coming weeks after emergency eye surgery, the Texas Republican announced Saturday.”
INSIDE THE INSURRECTION
NEW JAN. 6 DETAILS — The AP has a scoop on new details of leadership calls made during the January 6 insurrection. Pence, it appears, made a call at 4:08 p.m. to acting defense secretary Christopher Miller, demanding he do something ASAP. “Clear the Capitol,” AP says he told Miller in a one-minute call. This, notably, happened as Trump did essentially nothing to stop the violence.
THE NYT SEES A ‘BORDER CRISIS’ — “Young Migrants Crowd Shelters, Posing Test for Biden,” NYT: “The desperate plea landed this week in the email inboxes of employees in government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and NASA: Will you consider taking a four-month paid leave from your job to help care for migrant children in government-run shelters packed with new arrivals at the border? …
“More than 20,000 children and teenagers are in the custody of a government system that is already at ‘103 percent of capacity,’ including nearly 17,000 in shelters run by the health department, according to briefing materials from Operation Artemis, a response to the border crisis led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Government projections obtained by The New York Times show there could be more than 35,000 migrant children to be cared for by June — a prospect that one former senior health and human services official called ‘terrifying.’”
ACCESS DENIED — “State Department revokes security clearance for acting chief of staff to UN ambassador,” by Daniel Lippman: “Jennifer Davis, the de facto chief of staff to Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is a career Foreign Service officer who has worked at the State Department for 18 years … The decision to revoke Davis’s clearance came after a three-year administrative investigation conducted by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security”
THE INVISIBLE WAR — “Military leaders are pressed anew on handling of sexual assault cases,” WaPo: “It’s unclear whether proposals that would give specialized military prosecutors, rather than unit commanders, the power to decide which alleged sexual assaults are subject to military trial will muster enough votes to pass in Congress. …
“Support for more systemic change appears to be growing as lawmakers express impatience with the military’s inability to curb an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault. And as momentum builds for change, Pentagon leaders are quietly facing a reckoning between traditional military norms and intensified pressure over the scourge of sexual assault.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
A BIG STEP ON POLICING REFORM — “Maryland becomes first state to repeal police Bill of Rights, overriding Hogan veto,” by Ben Leonard: “Maryland’s Democrat-controlled legislature on Saturday moved to pass a sweeping police reform package that repealed the state’s police Bill of Rights, becoming the first state in the nation to do so and overriding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes in the process. The state’s police Bill of Rights covered due process for officers accused of misconduct. Advocates for repeal have called it ‘one of the most extreme in the nation.’ The new law will also give more oversight power to civilians.”
THE HOMEFRONT — “As protesters on left and right target public servants at home, one city pushes back,” LA Times
BY THE NUMBERS — “Red states are vaccinating at a lower rate than blue states,” CNN: “Most of the states where vaccination rates are lowest happen to be ones where the Black population is high and where the percentage who graduated from college was low, while the reverse is true in the states with high vaccination rates. … Even if we are able to raise the vaccination rates in one of the lagging groups, it doesn’t mean the other ones won’t continue to be an issue.”
THE MONEY-MAKING NEWSPAPER— “Inside the Fight for the Future of The Wall Street Journal,” NYT: “A special innovation team and a group of nearly 300 newsroom employees are pushing for drastic changes at the paper, which has been part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire since 2007. They say The Journal, often Mr. Murdoch’s first read of the day, must move away from subjects of interest to established business leaders and widen its scope if it wants to succeed in the years to come. The Journal of the future, they say, must pay more attention to social media trends and cover racial disparities in health care, for example, as aggressively as it pursues corporate mergers. That argument has yet to convince executives in the top ranks of the company.”
IN MEMORIAM — “Ramsey Clark, Attorney General and Rebel With a Cause, Dies at 93,” NYT: “Ramsey Clark, who championed civil rights and liberties as attorney general in the Johnson administration, then devoted much of the rest of his life to defending unpopular causes and infamous people, including Saddam Hussein and others accused of war crimes, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. …
“In becoming the nation’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Clark was part of an extraordinary father-and-son trade-off in the federal halls of power. His appointment prompted his father, Justice Tom C. Clark, to resign from the United States Supreme Court to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest involving cases in which the federal government might come before that bench.”
SPOTTED: Andrew Yang and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in Brooklyn on Saturday. Pics, via Yang’s Twitter
TRANSITION — Rachel Thomas is now deputy assistant secretary for comms at the Education Department. She most recently was the Northeast comms director for the Biden campaign and is also a Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Terry McAuliffe alum.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) … White House’s Mariel Sáez … Ethel Kennedy … Alex Phillips … J.D. Harrison … David Wofford … Cogent Strategies’ Missi Tessier … RIAA’s Michele Ballantyne … Marcia Hale … Hayley Richard … Chris Malagisi of Hillsdale College … Nina Verghese … Aaron Bennett … Rae Robinson Trotman of SKDKnickerbocker … Marc Ross of Strategic Elements … MSNBC’s Raelyn Johnson … NBC’s Amanda Golden … Nick O’Boyle of Rep. Ron Estes’ (R-Kan.) office … Manuel Ortiz … Kate Warren … Benjamin Bryant … DAGA’s Jason Bargnes … Amazon’s Kevin O’Neill … Don Graves … Linda Lipsen of the American Association of Justice … Julie Tarallo … Beth Osborne … Bryan Wells of Shalom Baranes Associates (34) … former Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.) … Holly Geffs … Janet Montesi … Meghan McCann … Mitch Carney … Kim Aagaard … Andrew Meyer
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