POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Trump trades courtroom for RNC retreat in Florida

May 5, 2024, 6:30 AM | Updated: May 6, 2024, 2:01 pm

Former President Donald Trump speaks with the media at Manhattan Supreme Court during the proceedin...

Former President Donald Trump speaks with the media at Manhattan Supreme Court during the proceedings in his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York, New York, Friday, May, 3, 2024. Judge Juan Merchan has found former President Donald Trump in contempt for violating the gag order in his hush money trial for the 10th time. (Curtis Means/Pool/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(Curtis Means/Pool/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 04 MAY 24 07:00 ET
Updated: 04 MAY 24 19:12 ET

Palm Beach, Florida (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump this weekend traded a New York courtroom for Florida banquet halls, where he mingled with his vice presidential contenders and wealthy donors during the Republican National Committee’s spring retreat.

The former president was the main attraction at a fundraiser luncheon hosted at his Mar-a-Lago club on Saturday, where Trump courted his deep-pocketed supporters as he attempts to catch up to the Biden campaign’s ever-growing war chest.

Top GOP donors and high-profile party leaders first gathered at the Four Seasons on Friday for a welcome reception with Trump’s daughter-in-law and RNC co-chair Lara Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson and House GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik, according to sources familiar with the weekend itinerary.

While the annual weekend retreat typically serves as a meeting place for the GOP elite, this year’s special guests included a series of Republicans on Trump’s VP shortlist. Some of them received praise from the former president during Saturday’s luncheon, a source with knowledge of the event told CNN. Trump called to the stage Stefanik, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, Ohio Sen. JD Vance, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, among others.

Trump praised Stefanik as “an amazing talent” and said Rubio was doing a great job.

Other notable guests included Florida Sen. Rick Scott, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick and Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem — who has spent the last week attempting to do damage control regarding a recently published excerpt from her upcoming book, in which she detailed how she shot and killed her dog, Cricket — was also in attendance.

Trump is not expected to announce his running mate anytime soon, his senior advisers tell CNN, with his VP shortlist remaining long and in flux, despite his team having already begun the vetting process. He plans to make his official decision public closer to the Republican National Convention in July.

“We’ll be making that decision, I think, closer to Wisconsin time,” Trump told a Fox affiliate in Wisconsin on Wednesday. “It’s very early right now.”

On Sunday, Trump is planning to attend the Miami Grand Prix.

Campaign trail and courtroom

Advisers for Trump’s campaign told donors at the retreat Saturday that the campaign and its aligned groups raised $76.2 million in April, two attendees told CNN.

In a presentation to donors, Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, as well as Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio, walked through the fundraising figures and presented a case for Trump’s electoral path that suggested Trump could compete in Virginia and Minnesota, two states that have leaned toward Democrats in recent elections.

The Biden campaign brushed off the idea. “Trump doesn’t have a campaign operation in a single battleground state,” Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said in a statement to CNN.

In their presentation, the Trump campaign advisers also previewed two upcoming trips on Trump’s schedule for fundraising events in Ohio and Kentucky on May 15 and Texas on May 22, both of which will take place on a Wednesday — the former president’s one weekday that he is not required to appear in a New York courtroom for his criminal hush money trial.

On Friday, top Trump allies including Johnson, Stefanik, RNC chairman Michael Whatley and Lara Trump, as well as a number of senators, including Rubio, Tim Scott, and Blackburn, among others, delivered presentations to the more than 200 people gathered at the Four Seasons, according to attendees of the event.

The presentations featured discussions over how to message on abortion, something they acknowledged was a key vulnerability ahead of November, their latest internal polling, and the Trump campaign’s strategy to expand the electorate among Black and Hispanic voters.

One of the presenters also privately admitted the hush money trial “is bleeding money,” according to one attendee with direct knowledge of the remarks, referencing the millions of dollars being siphoned away from the Trump campaign to cover the former president’s legal bills.

Johnson shows off relationship with Trump

Johnson’s attendance at the retreat serves as an opportunity for him to showcase his relationship with Trump ahead of a critical vote to strip him of his speaker’s gavel.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene announced on Wednesday that she plans to force a vote on Johnsons ouster when members return to the Capitol next week, a move that comes after Democrats have said they will vote to kill the effort and ensure Johnson doesn’t lose his job.

Trump, who has yet to publicly weigh in on the intraparty feuding, has been annoyed by the saga, telling his advisers and others in his inner circle that he views it as a distraction that is hurting the party’s image at a time when he wants the full focus, and force, of the GOP behind him, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the comments.

Some of his quiet annoyance was on display this week, when Trump tapped Whatley, the newly elected RNC chairman, to travel to Capitol Hill to convey to the House Republican conference that he has no interest in a divided party, sources familiar with Whatley’s comments said.

Whatley, acting as Trump’s emissary, also met separately with Greene, and privately signaled to her to cease the drama, one of the sources said.

Johnson has previously used his relationship with Trump in an effort to show solidarity amid threats to his job. Last month, he flew to Mar-a-Lago for a news conference, which his team arranged, alongside the former president, during which Trump praised Johnson and acknowledged the difficulty he was facing in Congress.

“We’re getting along very well with the speaker, and I get along very well with Marjorie. We have a speaker who was voted in, and it was a complicated process. And I think very, it’s not, not an easy situation for any speaker,” Trump told reporters at the time.

This story has been updated with new reporting.

CNN’s Aaron Pellish, Kristen Holmes and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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Trump trades courtroom for RNC retreat in Florida