Trump turns from past to future at RNC donor retreat
NASHVILLE — Donald Trump stood before Republican National Committee donors on Saturday to make his case for a return to the White House, arguing that he deserves another chance to finish a dramatic party transformation that he started nearly eight years ago.
In his remarks to GOP elite gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel, Trump traded the election grievance rhetoric that has defined his last two years in the public eye for a different type of message — his vision for the future, while arguing that he single-handedly “saved” the Republican Party from “the establishment class” when he won in 2016.
“Republicans were a party known for starting wars overseas, cutting Social Security and Medicare at home, and pushing mass amnesty for illegal aliens,” Trump told donors during the closed-door gathering, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by POLITICO.
Declaring that the “old Republican Party is gone, and it is never coming back,” Trump in Nashville urged Republican donors to help put him back in the White House through electoral strategies he once decried, like robust mail-in voting and ballot harvesting.
Giving him another term, Trump said, would make the GOP an “unstoppable juggernaut that will dominate American politics for generations to come.”
Trump’s campaign has touched on these themes recently, including his evolving position on ballot harvesting alongside mail and early voting as well as his policy vision for the country, should he return to power.
But this was the first time Trump, since announcing his campaign in November and recalibrating some policy positions after the GOP’s midterm election losses, has made these arguments at an RNC event. Ronna McDaniel, the committee chair, has warned that the party must embrace messaging that encourages Republicans to vote early and by mail, though Trump and other conservative influencers did not jump to adopt the same type of rhetoric, and likely turned many GOP voters off from using those methods.
The change of tune comes as Trump, less than 10 months out from the first Republican primary events, is commanding a lead over the GOP field. And his message Saturday follows weeks of donors privately and publicly expressing doubts about Ron DeSantis’ ability to beat him in a primary, including a billionaire GOP donor telling the Financial Times this weekend he now plans to pull back his support of the Florida governor.
Trump on Saturday night reminded the donors of his current standing in the primary. At one point in the speech, Trump planned to list off recent polls and their results line by line — reading off the breakdown of his and all of his opponents’ totals in surveys from Morning Consult, Trafalgar, Reuters, Yahoo, McLaughlin, Florida Voice, University of Georgia, St. Anselm and more.
Trump, who for over two years has faced internal party criticism for focusing on an old election rather than the party’s future, articulated to donors on Saturday a different approach. Even in remarks during this weekend’s donor retreat, Trump critics like former Vice President Mike Pence and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp took jabs at Trump for his tendency to look backward. But his remarks Saturday did much less of that. Despite mentioning Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential loss, Trump steered clear of talk of past unsuccessful elections.
Instead of devoting time in his speech to decry voting machines or allege election officials to be corrupt, Trump touted accomplishments from his four years in office and made sweeping pledges for what he will do if elected again. One such promise was that he would end the war between Ukraine and Russia before even stepping foot into the White House — vowing to do so, without explanation on strategy, “shortly after” winning the presidential election. Similarly, Trump said he would put an end to cartel networks “just as we destroyed the ISIS caliphate.”
Trump vowed to “totally obliterate the Deep State,” directing the Department of Justice to go after local prosecutors deemed as “Marxist” or “racist-in-reverse.” He pledged to sign an executive order cutting federal funding from schools that teach critical race theory or “inappropriate” sexual content, as well as for schools and colleges implementing mask or vaccine requirements. And he said he would sign a federal law forbidding sex-change procedures on children.
Trump this weekend was spending a rare two nights away from his home in Palm Beach, arriving in Nashville on Friday after speaking at the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis. The former president dined with members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation Friday evening, played golf with Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) on Saturday morning and planned to remain in Nashville for the evening.
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