San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Trump loyalists dominate conservati­ve conference

- By Jill Colvin Jill Colvin is an Associated Press writer.

WASHINGTON — A conference dedicated to the future of the conservati­ve movement turned into an ode to Donald Trump as speakers declared their fealty to the former president and attendees posed for selfies with a golden statue of his likeness.

As the Republican Party grapples with deep divisions over the extent to which it should embrace Trump after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress, those gathered at the annual Conservati­ve Political Action Conference on Friday made clear they are not ready to move on from the former president — or from his baseless charges that the November election was rigged against him.

“Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of several potential 2024 presidenti­al contenders who spoke at the event, being held in Orlando this year to bypass COVID19 restrictio­ns. Trump will be making his first postpresid­ential appearance at the conference Sunday, and aides say he will use the speech to reassert his power. The program underscore­d the split raging within the GOP, as many establishm­ent voices argue the party must move on from Trump to win back the suburban voters who abandoned them in November, putting President Biden in the White House. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worry Trump will undermine the party’s political future if he and his conspiracy theories continue to dominate Republican politics.

But at the conference, speakers continued to fan disinforma­tion and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, with panels dedicated to amplifying false claims of mass voter fraud that have been dismissed by the courts, state election officials and Trump’s own administra­tion.

Indeed, Sen. Josh Hawley, RMo., another potential 2024 hopeful, drew among the loudest applause and a standing ovation when he bragged about challengin­g the election certificat­ion on Jan. 6 despite the storming of the Capitol building by Trump supporters trying to halt the process.

“I thought it was an important stand to take,” he said.

Others argued the party would lose if it turned its back on Trump and alienated the workingcla­ss voters drawn to his populist message. “We cannot — we will not — go back to the days of the failed Republican establishm­ent of yesteryear,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who outlined a new Trumpian GOP agenda focused on restrictiv­e immigratio­n policies, opposition to China and limiting military engagement.

“We will not win the future by trying to go back to where the Republican Party used to be,” echoed Florida Sen. Rick Scott. “If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated. We’re going to lose elections across the country, and ultimately we’re going to lose our nation.“

Scott is dismissing pressure on him to “mediate between warring factions on the right” or “mediate the war of words between the party leaders.” He has refused to take sides in the bitter fight between Trump and McConnell, who blamed Trump for inciting the deadly Capitol riot but ultimately voted to acquit him at his impeachmen­t trial this month.

But the GOP turmoil was front and center. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., lit into Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who has faced tremendous backlash for her vote to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol riot.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News Channel host and Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, offered a pointed message to those who stand in opposition to the former president, who will not arrive at the conference until Sunday but was present in spirit in the form of a large golden statue in a merchandis­e show booth, where attendees could pose for pictures with it.

“We bid a farewell to the weakkneed, the spineless and the cowards that are posing in D.C. pretending that they’re working for the people,” she said. “Let’s send them a pink slip straight from CPAC.”

Trump Jr., who labeled the conference “TPAC” in honor of his father, hyped the return of the “Make America Great Again” platform to the spotlight.

“I imagine it will not be what we call a ‘lowenergy’ speech,” he said. “And I assure you that it will solidify Donald Trump and all of your feelings about the MAGA movement as the future of the Republican Party.”

 ?? Joe Raedle / Getty Images ?? Attendees of the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference pose for photos with a golden statue of former President Donald Trump on display in Orlando.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images Attendees of the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference pose for photos with a golden statue of former President Donald Trump on display in Orlando.

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