Feb 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump exile government takes shape

Former President Trump is seen hugging the American flag at last year's 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

From campaigns to conventions, Donald Trump and his administration are reemerging in exile.

What's happening: Trump family members are weighing political races, a slate of former Cabinet members are set to speak at next week's CPAC meeting, and after laying low through his impeachment trial, Trump is vowing to battle Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to shape the GOP’s field for the 2022 midterms.

  • Trump on Wednesday used the death of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for his first TV interview since leaving office, praising Limbaugh, whom he said also felt angry about the election because he thought Trump had won.
  • That followed Trump’s statement Tuesday declaring, “Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First.”

The Trump brand will be on vivid display at the Conservative Political Action Conference set to run next Thursday through Sunday in Orlando.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney was met with groans of "n-o-o-o-o" when he ended his 2008 presidential campaign with a speech at CPAC. This year, mainstream Republicans like him are persona non grata.
  • Instead, the speaking list reads like a Trump administration roster. Mike Pompeo, Ben Carson and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and rising stars like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, are scheduled to appear.
  • The former president is a possible headliner himself. After all, the event once held in Washington and then suburban Maryland has now been wholly relocated to Florida, Trump's home and the new locus for conservative power brokers.
  • Those who have broken with Trump — whether Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, or potential 2024 candidate Nikki Haley — are notable omissions at this point.

CPAC is organized by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. His wife, Mercedes, worked in Trump's communications shop, and Schlapp himself was in the news last month for receiving a six-figure payment trying to arrange presidential pardon for his client.

  • The website for the annual meeting, which is projected to attract up to 18,000 people over four days, is replete with images of Trump at the presidential podium and his daughter Ivanka.
  • She has been mentioned as potential challenger to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), while Lara Trump, wife of the former president's son Eric, has been mentioned as a more likely candidate for U.S. Senate in her native North Carolina.

What we’re watching: This year's theme for the conference is "America Uncanceled" — a jab at the cancel-culture that Republicans pin on Democrats and Silicon Valley tech companies that have banned Trump from Twitter and other social media platforms.

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