Five things to watch for at the GOP’s donor retreat
GOP leaders and fundraisers are huddling in Palm Beach, Fla., for the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) spring donor retreat this weekend as the party scrambles to map out its future.
The retreat, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday, will feature some of the party’s most prominent figures, most notably former President Trump. Most of the event will be held at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, with attendees venturing over to Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club on Saturday for a portion of the program.
Unlike the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, the retreat will offer party leaders and donors the chance to meet behind closed doors.
Here are five things to watch for in the GOP’s spring donor retreat:
What does Trump have to say?
Trump is slated to speak at the retreat on Saturday. What his message will be is one of the biggest unknowns among the GOP’s donor class.
Since leaving the White House in January, the former president has tried to remain the party’s center of gravity, weighing in on emerging primary contests, criticizing President Biden’s agenda and waging a messaging war against Republicans whom he sees as disloyal.
There’s some concern that Trump will use his speech as an opportunity to plug his own political action committee, Save America, and urge donors to give directly to his group instead of the Republicans’ traditional campaign institutions, like the RNC and National Republican Congressional Committee — a proposal he’s already publicly floated.
Another question is whether Trump will continue to tease a political comeback in the 2024 presidential race. He hinted at the idea last month during a speech at CPAC in Orlando. But there’s still disagreement among those in his orbit over how seriously he’s considering such a run.
There’s little doubt that Trump himself still has a strong base of financial support. But the biggest question on Saturday will be whether he’s willing to help spread the wealth.
How do the 2024 prospects navigate the event?
The donor retreat is expected to draw a handful of potential 2024 hopefuls, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.).
But with Trump still believed to be eyeing another presidential bid, other would-be White House hopefuls are in an awkward position.
Retreats like the one in Palm Beach are often opportunities for prospective presidential candidates to hobnob with wealthy donors and show off their political chops before some of their party’s most prominent figures.
And for now, at least, Republicans with presidential aspirations are wary of being seen as too eager or ambitious out of fear of angering Trump, who still sees himself as the clear favorite for the 2024 nomination and maintains the support of a loyal conservative voter base.
Will simmering tensions finally spill over?
The GOP has struggled to find its footing since the end of Trump’s presidency.
Party leaders, elected officials, donors and operatives have spent the past three months debating the future of the GOP — whether it will stick with Trump’s brand of ultra-conservative populism or chart a path that seeks to expand its base of support.
The donor retreat is sure to bring together some competing forces within the party.
Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has vowed to back GOP incumbents up for reelection next year, despite Trump’s desire to install loyalists in Congress, even if that means taking out a sitting lawmaker.
At the same time, party operatives and donors are divided on the best strategy for recapturing control of Congress in the 2022 midterms, with some hoping to limit Trump’s influence in the midterms and others believing that the former president remains Republicans’ greatest political weapon.
Because the donor retreat will largely take place behind closed doors, Republicans may be more comfortable opening up about their disagreements.
Does Trump meet with resistance from major donors?
The most pressing issue for many GOP donors is the 2022 midterms, when Republicans will have a chance to recapture their lost majorities in the House and Senate.
That puts them at odds with Trump, who is focused on building out a post-presidential political operation that he can use to exact revenge on Republicans who have crossed him and lay the groundwork for a potential 2024 campaign.
At the same time, some donors remain irritated about the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump’s supporters and the former president’s role in inciting them. Some Republicans are hoping for a more subdued role for Trump in 2022, believing that his outsize political presence over the past four years cost the GOP in swing states and districts.
The question now is whether those frustrations spill over into the retreat.
Will it do anything to unify the party?
Despite the tensions within the GOP, there’s little desire among Republicans for a drawn-out fight over the party’s ideals and direction.
Republicans need to gain just five seats in the House and only one in the Senate to recapture control of Congress next year, and GOP leaders have made clear both publicly and privately that the sooner they can resolve the intraparty disputes, the better.
One Republican source sounded an optimistic note about the donor retreat, saying that it will give party leaders a chance to “smooth things out” behind closed doors and without the pressure of television cameras.
Then again, the source said, Trump “isn’t known for smoothing things out.”
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