Cassidy Says GOP Can’t Just Idolize ‘One Person’: CPAC Update

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference concludes Sunday with a line-up of Trump administration veterans, media personalities and potential 2024 candidates in an event that cements former President Donald Trump’s status as leader of the party. Trump makes his return to public life later on Sunday with a speech to conclude the meeting.

Other Developments:

CPAC Isn’t ‘Entirety’ of Republicans, Cassidy Says

The cast of characters at CPAC “is not the entirety of the Republican Party,” Bill Cassidy, one of seven GOP senators who voted to uphold Trump’s impeachment conviction this month, said on CNN.

The Louisiana lawmaker was among the prominent Republicans who didn’t attend this weekend’s meeting, either by choice or because they weren’t invited.

“Political organizations and campaigns are about winning. Over the last four years, we lost the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency,” Cassidy said. “If we plan to win in 2022 and 2024, we have to listen to the voters. Not just those who really like President Trump, but also those who perhaps are less sure.”

Cassidy said he doesn’t think Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, and said the party needs to “speak to voters who didn’t vote for us last time.”

“If we idolize one person, we will lose,” he said. -- Katrina Lewis

Pompeo Hones Stump Speech But It’s Unclear for What

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave conservatives an unapologetic defense of Trump’s foreign policy, saying his former boss accomplished wins with Iran sanctions, Middle East peace and North Korea talks without sparking the wars that his critics predicted.

“We were told you can’t move the United States embassy to Jerusalem or there will be a war. Well, we did -- and there was not a war,” he said to applause at the Orlando gathering.

If not for Trump’s looming presence over the 2024 Republican presidential field, Pompeo’s address anchoring the Saturday program may have sounded like the warm-up to an Iowa stump speech. He spoke of his Grandpa Earl, a Depression-era Kansas sheriff. He threw barbs at President Joe Biden, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal. And he tipped a toe back into domestic politics, saying he no longer needed to stay his lane as America’s top diplomat.

But Pompeo also reaffirmed his loyalty to Trump. “America First takes real courage. It takes a secretary of state willing to walk into a room and tell it like it is, and a president who has his back. We had that.”

In a tweet on Saturday, Pompeo urged his followers to “Keep Grinding. Be a pipehitter,” a military-style catchphrase suggestive of elite operations he also used in his CPAC remarks. -- Gregory Korte

Trump Alum Grenell Hints at Run for California Governor (1:32 pm.)

Former acting director of national intelligence Ric Grenell hinted Saturday that he could join a stable of Trump loyalists running for office -- in this case, for governor of California against Democrat Gavin Newsom.

Grenell, 54, told the CPAC audience that he has “never seen a better case for a recall” than one for Newsom, who has been under fire in some quarters for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Failing a recall, Grenell said that “there’s always one other option: you can run against them yourself.”

Politico later reported that Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020, will dine with Trump at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club on Saturday, citing people it didn’t identify.

Grenell was the first openly gay person to serve in the U.S. at a Cabinet-level position, although in the acting capacity he was not confirmed by the Senate. He’s a resident of Palm Springs, California. -- Emmy Kinery

Arizona’s Gosar Backtracks After Speaking to Right-Wing Group (10:39 a.m.)

Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona said he denounces “white racism,” hours after speaking at an “America First” political conference hosted by far-right activist Nicholas Fuentes.

“I want to tell you, uh, I denounce when we talk about white racism, that’s not appropriate,” Gosar said on a CPAC panel entitled “Sell Outs: The Devaluing of American Citizenship.”

Gosar, who helped lead the effort in Congress on Jan. 6 to block the certification of Joe Biden’s electors, spoke Friday night about immigration and what he called the censorship of conservatives by tech companies. He was followed at the AFPAC event by Fuentes, who recycled debunked theories of a “fraudulent” election and recalled thinking, “this is awesome!” as “patriots” surrounded the Capitol and lawmakers fled. He later said he disavowed violence.

Fuentes also said to cheers on Friday that “white people are done being bullied” and if America “loses its white demographic core and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ, then this is not America any more.”

Also speaking at the AFPAC event was former Representative GOP Steve King, who was stripped of his committee assignments for alleged remarks on white nationalism. King drew loud applause after remarking, “We can restore this country, and we can do it with our babies, and we can do it with our values!” -- Emma Kinery and Steven T. Dennis

Trump Backs Ex-Aide Against Pro-Impeachment Candidate (5:46 p.m.)

Trump has endorsed a former campaign and White House aide to challenge a Republican congressman from Ohio who voted to impeach him last month — his first such endorsement in what’s likely to become an effort to purge anti-Trump Republicans.

“Max Miller is a wonderful person who did a great job at the White House and will be a fantastic congressman,” Trump, who will address CPAC on Sunday, said in a statement via his Save America political action committee. “Current Representative Anthony Gonzalez should not be representing the people of the 16th District because he does not represent their interest or their heart.”

Gonzalez, a second-term congressman and former Ohio State football player, is facing Republican criticism after saying Trump helped organize and incite the mob and “abandoned his post” while the Capitol was under attack on Jan. 6.

Miller, a Marine reservist who worked in the Office of Presidential Personnel and in various campaign positions, recently moved into Gonzalez’s district.

Gonzelez is one of 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment who are likely to face intra-party opposition next year, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming. -- Gregory Korte

Gaetz Goes After Cheney, Revealing Party Split (2:49 p.m.)

Leading figures at the Conservative Political Action Conference are downplaying reports of a “Republican civil war,” but Representative Matt Gaetz — a close ally of former President Donald Trump — was happy to stoke it.

“I haven’t gotten that good a warm welcome since I was in Wyoming!” Gaetz said to applause at the Orlando conference, referring to his efforts to instigate a Republican primary challenge in Representative Liz Cheney’s home state.

Cheney, the third-ranked Republican in the U.S. House, has drawn the ire of Trump supporters for voting to impeach the former president on a charge of inciting insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Her state Republican party censured for the move.

“Speaking of people who want to lose primaries, if Liz Cheney were on this stage today she’d get booed off of it. What does that say? The leadership of our party is not found in Washington, D.C.” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said CPAC represents “the pro-Trump America First wing of the conservative movement” but then added “We’re not really a wing. We’re the main body.” -- Gregory Korte

Cruz Calls on GOP To “Fight!” (12:03 p.m.)

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz demonstrated that the U.S. Capitol attack has done little to soften Republicans’ rhetoric about the 2020 election and the deadly riot, encouraging CPAC attendees to “fight!”

“The media desperately, desperately, desperately wants to see a Republican civil war,” Cruz said to cheers. “Liberty is under assault and what are we going to do? I’ll tell you: We will fight!”

Cruz, a potential 2024 candidate, did not condemn the attack on the Capitol, saying that the security fences that remain in place are nothing more than “political theater,” even as Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman testified Thursday that there is evidence militia groups plan to “blow up” the Capitol when President Joe Biden delivers a speech to Congress.

“The U.S. Capitol has giant fences with razor wires and 5,000 National Guard standing out front because the Democrats are convinced that’s political theater. Let’s be clear: this is not about security at this point, it’s about political theater -- half the country, the deplorables, are dangerous and they’re going to turn the Capitol into a military outpost in Baghdad.”

Cruz opened his remarks by making light of his trip to Cancun as millions in his home state of Texas were without power or water during a winter storm: “I got to say, Orlando is awesome! It’s not as nice as Cancun -- but it’s nice!”

As Cruz made that joke, his fellow Texas senator, John Cornyn, was meeting Biden in Houston to assess the damage. -- Emma Kinery

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