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March 1, 2021, 8:21 a.m. EST

Trump is dominant presence at CPAC in Orlando, Fla., ahead of Sunday speech

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By Associated Press

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See: Josh Hawley rebuked by fellow Republicans and home-state newspapers — and even his political mentor

The party would find itself in the wilderness if it turned its back on Trump and alienated the working-class voters drawn to his populist message, argued some CPAC speakers.

“We cannot — we will not — go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” said Florida’s 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, who chairs the fundraising committee tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate. “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 has been dismissive of pressure on him in his National Republican Senatorial Committee role 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 ongoing fight between Trump and McConnell, who voted to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial earlier this month before going on to say Trump deservedly could face criminal prosecution for inciting the riot. “I’m not going to mediate anything,” Scott said, criticizing those who “prefer to fan the flames of a civil war on our side” as “foolish” and “ridiculous.”

See: Congressman sues Trump over role in Capitol riot

But in speeches throughout the day, 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 .

Key Words: Don’t read much into the awkward moment when McCarthy and Cheney were asked about Trump’s ongoing influence, says former tea-party congressman

The former president himself, heading into the weekend, issued a statement endorsing Max Miller, a former aide who has now launched a campaign challenging Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a fellow Republican who voted in favor of impeachment.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, a 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 before Sunday was physically present at CPAC only in the form of a large golden statue erected in a trade-show-style booth where attendees could pose for pictures with it.

“We bid a farewell to the weak-kneed, 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 family’s adopted surname , hyped the return of his father and the “Make America Great Again” platform to the spotlight.

“I imagine it will not be what we call a ‘low energy’ speech,” said Trump Jr. “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.”

CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp, who heads the American Conservative Union and whose wife was a Trump White House communications aide , found himself spending part of the weekend defending the unorthodox shape of the event’s main stage, which many people on social media and elsewhere noted is an exact replica of a well-recognized Nazi symbol.

Schlapp sought to dismiss those making that observation as ludicrous and conspiratorially minded .

Key Words (April 2018): Right-wing lobbyist: It’s not a journalist’s job to point out when the president lies

MarketWatch contributed.

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