PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Staking his claim to the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump is casting his populist policies and attack-dog politics as the key to future GOP success.
In a closed-door speech Saturday night to donors at his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump also reinforced his commitment to the party, according to remarks obtained by The Associated Press. Going off script, however, Trump slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a "stone-cold loser" and mocked McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, who was Trump's transportation secretary.
Trump's appearance came as Republican officials are trying to play down an internal feud over his role in the party, his commitment to GOP fundraising and his plans for 2024. While Trump's advisers initially said he planned to emphasize party unity, he rarely sticks to script.
"The key to this triumphant future will be to build on the gains our amazing movement has made over the past four years," Trump said in his prepared remarks. He added: "We transformed the Republican Party into a party that truly fights for all Americans."
Veering from his prepared remarks, Trump said he was "disappointed" in his vice president, Mike Pence, and used a profanity in assessing McConnell, according to multiple people in attendance who were not authorized to publicly discuss what was said in a private session. He also said McConnell had not thanked him properly for putting Chao, who was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, in his Cabinet.
McConnell and Chao have been critical of Trump's role in encouraging the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol; Chao resigned her post in protest. Pence, meanwhile, presided over a congressional session that certified Joe Biden's election victory over Trump.
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Saturday's speech was the final address of the Republican National Committee's weekend donor summit in Palm Beach. Most of the RNC's invitation-only gathering was held at a luxury hotel a few miles away; attendees were bused to Trump's club for his remarks.
While a significant faction of the Republican Party hopes to move past Trump’s divisive leadership, the location of the event suggests that the GOP, at least for now, is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.
Trump's commitment to the GOP is far from certain.
Earlier in the year, he raised the possibility of creating a new political party. 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."
GOP officials have repeatedly tried to play down the fundraising tensions and see Trump’s participation as a sign that he is willing to lend his name to the party. At the same time, Trump continues to aggressively accumulate campaign cash to fuel his own political ambitions.
He has accumulated a total of roughly $85 million so far, a small fortune that rivals the RNC's bank account.