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Republicans are bracing for an awkward Trump speech at an exclusive Palm Beach GOP donor retreat where hotel rooms go for $1,300 a night

  • Trump is set to speak at a major donor event in Palm Beach. 
  • The event is to help raise money to elect Republicans in the Senate.
  • Insider camped out in the hotel’s lobby asking attendees about the ex-president and state of the GOP.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Donald Trump is headed for an awkward reception when he appears here on Thursday before powerful GOP donors who don’t want the former president to be heavily involved in the 2022 midterms or take another shot at the White House. 

That’s one of the sentiments Insider gleaned during a day spent camped out in the lobby of the luxurious oceanside Breakers resort and golf course that’s playing host to this week’s “Action Summit” for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Political insiders familiar with the event said they were shocked that the Senate GOP’s chairman for the 2022 campaign, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, had even invited Trump to speak. After all, Trump is publicly calling for the Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, to be ousted from his post. 

“Rick Scott really jammed his Leader McConnell by inviting Trump to the Senate Florida retreat,” said one longtime GOP strategist, who did not attend the event at the $1,300-per-night hotel (ocean view with a king is an extra $400). “Trump who undermines the GOP Senate at every opportunity and cares little about governing.”

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The exact timing of Trump’s Thursday-morning speech isn’t clear, given his propensity to run late and implementing required security, said one person involved with the planning who himself would be skipping the speech in favor of a golf tournament the NRSC has scheduled for the morning. 

McConnell wasn’t at the Palm Beach retreat on Thursday. But his wife, Elaine Chao, spoke on a panel about infrastructure. She resigned as Trump’s Transportation secretary following the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

The mood at the GOP donor retreat — located just a few miles away from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club — appeared upbeat even as several Republican senators declined to say more about the ex-president’s forthcoming visit. Several of the lawmakers were willing to confirm Trump was going to be addressing them in person, but attendees during Tuesday’s opening evening festivities also said Trump did not appear to be the biggest topic of conversation then either.

“Nobody really talked about the Trumpster,” one Republican donor told Insider.

Attendees of the NRSC event no doubt had varying opinions on the former president, said a person involved with planning the confab but who asked not to be identified to speak candidly. 

“A lot of people are very excited that he’s coming,” the person said. “We’ll see. It’s always interesting with Trump. Whoever wants to be there can be there.”

Seating area next to the courtyard at the Breakers in Palm Beach.

Kimberly Leonard/Insider

Senators spotted at the retreat

The NRSC event was not open to journalists, but Insider went to the Breakers and spoke with several people as they exited the ballroom event space. 

Tuesday’s events were described by one GOP donor as “no business, all fluffy stuff.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina “had people going” with a joke he kept on repeating where he urged his audience to “go to” and used the hyperlink name in place of his own name. 

Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee told Insider he’d enjoyed a panel about US-China relations. Hagerty was the US ambassador to Japan under Trump before winning his seat in 2020. 

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Insider spotted Sen. Steve Daines of Montana wheeling his suitcase through the lobby area that encircled the courtyard of the lavish hotel. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania exited the meeting area holding a baseball and glove walking alongside a young boy. 

Graham entered the hotel during the early afternoon carrying a bottle of water and appeared to have just returned from a workout. Also spotted: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, who was the US ambassador to the Vatican during the Trump administration. Gingrich confirmed to Insider that Trump was expected to speak on Thursday morning. 

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McConnell remains popular with rank and file senators despite the frequent attacks from Trump, whose extended flirtations with a 2024 presidential campaign have loomed large over the GOP and the rest of the possible field. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a former Trump rival who is eyeing his own possible White House campaign, said last week in an interview that he thought McConnell was “savvy and very experienced in the ways of the Senate” and called him a “strong and very effective” leader. 

Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana praised McConnell for knowing “the system as well as anybody could.” He added, however, that he thought Republicans needed to present more policy ideas they could run on. 

This appeared to be a theme other Republicans were thinking about. Former House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday night told the audience that Republicans needed to start talking about what they would do if they were to win the Senate in 2022, according to the GOP donor who attended the conference. 

“He said, ‘If we get there now what? What are we going to do with it?'” the donor recalled. “You get in these things and it’s all about winning.” 

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