Too much Trump, or not enough Trump? That is the question that everyone from journalists to Republican elected officials had on their minds as the House GOP apparatus descended on the Marriott in Orlando for its annual retreat. Cockburn managed to sneak into a spare hotel room.
During the Hotel California-esque conference, Republicans ate, drank and were merry. But Donald Trump was on everyone’s minds, both during the daytime sessions and at the happy hours that stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
You’ll be shocked to hear that no one expressed support for Alvin Bragg, the George Soros-funded district attorney who may or may not be arresting the former president. Many of those gathered compared the Manhattan DA’s actions to those of a tinpot dictator. But, there was one side of the debate where Republicans wanted to move on from Trump, and the other side who insisted that Bragg is actually making Trump more powerful than he has been before.
Specifically, Republicans like Representative Elise Stefanik, a possible VP pick for the former president, have gone all-in on Trump in the past, and doubled down this weekend. During a conversation with Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman, Stefanik said that Trump is actually surging following the news of his possible arrest, and took a subtle dig at Governor Ron DeSantis, while actually praising lesser-known presidential candidate (and likely Ohio Senate candidate) Vivek Ramaswamy for his staunch defense of Trump.
According to Stefanik, Trump is “likely to be the Republican nominee,” and while she’s not a fan of polls, right now they show him with a commanding lead over a field of mostly-unannounced rivals. “Sometimes no one wants to read the polls,” she said, but it’s clear to her that Trump will be the nominee. Her remarks caught the former president’s eye; at times he simply posted videos of her remarks on his Truth Social platform.
Interestingly, Stefanik’s conversation with Sherman was widely panned by journalists, Republican elected officials and staffers, who complained that the party was feeding the beast that wants to destroy it.
There is a risk of going all-in on Trump too much, which even some of his allies in Congress spoke about. For example, Trump recently hosted a fundraiser for a freshman Republican who has already endorsed his 2024 bid, but even that poses risks. During the Mar-a-Lago event, Trump lavished a bit too much praise on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and their “love letters” for the freshman’s liking.
At times, the conference was about Trump even when it wasn’t supposed to be about Trump.
During one of the breakout sessions about Silicon Valley Bank, the panoply of liberal journalists invited to cover the Republican Party audibly laughed out loud when one of their colleagues had the temerity to ask Kevin McCarthy about his thoughts on California governor Gavin Newsom’s close ties to the bank.
The journalists assembled would rather ask McCarthy about, you guessed it, Donald Trump. CNN’s Manu Raju made sure he briefly derailed that conversation by asking McCarthy if it was fair for House Republicans to demand testimony from the Manhattan district attorney before Trump was indicted. The journalists in Raju’s corner predictably applauded him for asking the same question he’s been asking all weekend long.
While Trump sucked up much of the oxygen over the weekend, there was some other celebrity chatter as well. Like others who spend time in Florida during their retirement, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees showed up to address the conference about teamwork; he got rave reviews from those who heard him speak — and no one criticized his “noodle arm!”
Brees wasn’t even the only celeb sighting at the hotel; while Brees was an invited speaker, legendary boxer Mike Tyson was seen roaming the halls of the Marriott for a different event, and even he could not escape the Trump Question. Tyson, a longtime Trump friend, came squarely down on Trump’s side. “I don’t think he should go to jail. I don’t know, I’m not a politician,” Tyson told Breitbart, sounding an awful lot like the Republicans gathered there over the weekend.