Donald Trump was scheduled to speak on Saturday at a Republican National Committee event held at his Mar-a-Lago resort, amid a weekend of summits and dinners in the former president’s corner of Florida.
The Republican rush to court Trump – and to pay for the use of his properties – is proving highly profitable. According to the Washington Post, attendees at the 400-person banquet planned for Saturday paid more than $100,000 each to attend.
On Saturday night, Trump was reportedly set to tell attendees: “I stand before you this evening filled with confidence that in 2022, we are going to take back the House and we are going to reclaim the Senate – and then in 2024, a Republican candidate is going to win the White House.”
Nonetheless, debate continues over Trump’s place in a party he led to victory in one presidential election but then shepherded to defeat in another while losing the House and the Senate after four years of chaos and two impeachment trials.
His spokesman, Jason Miller, told the Post he was still “the biggest name in politics”.
A leading presidential historian countered, telling the Associated Press that where once Trump was “like Zeus … shooting tweets like thunderbolts from up high”, now he only released “little squeaks from the mouse of Mar-a-Lago”.
As Republicans begin to mull their choice of presidential nominee for 2024, senators, governors and other figures are jostling for prominence and courting major donors.
An unnamed attendee at events in Florida this weekend, an adviser to a top donor, told Politico the party’s focus was on limiting Trump’s influence in order to win back suburban voters who deserted him for Joe Biden.
“The thing on every donor’s mind,” the person was quoted as saying, “is how much sway Trump should have.”
Trump, however, consistently tops polls of Republican voters.
He is also fervently courted for endorsements. In Florida on Friday he both hosted and endorsed Marco Rubio, a senator and former presidential rival many had thought likely to attract a challenge from Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
Public appearances are also keenly sought. Amy Kremer of Women for America First, a conservative group holding an event at another Trump property, his golf course in Doral, Florida, told the Post: “We would love to see him. If he came and spoke to the group spending the weekend here, that would be great. If he came and played golf and people watched him … that would be great too.”
Nonetheless some observers think Trump’s grip is slipping, not least because he has lost access to Twitter, his most powerful communication platform, for inciting the Capitol attack.
Trump’s power “is waning by the day”, Alex Conant, a Republican consultant, told the AP. “When you’re president of the United States it’s very easy to insert yourself into every news cycle. But once you’ve left office, it has to be more strategic.”
Conant said Trump should have announced a book, sat for primetime interviews or delivered speeches. Instead he has taken to releasing short tweet-like statements, sent straight to journalists by email. Trump has said he is developing his own social media platform but he has also said his statements work better than online messages.
Speaking to the AP, Miller insisted Trump was still “the greatest news generator in American history” and said: “There was never this type of media interest in the post-presidential careers of Clinton, Bush or Obama.”
Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under George W Bush, disagreed. Though Trump “looms large” in the Republican party, he said, and “was unlike any prior president in the amount of oxygen he sucked up … he increasingly resembles many former presidents in how little oxygen he now gets.”
Harold Holzer, director of Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, said: “I don’t think it’s unnatural for coverage to diminish. I’m sure it’s tough on his ego, given … how much ink he generates, but it’s not unnatural for an ex-president to get less attention.”
Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, was harsher.
“I think he lost all momentum when he got pulled from the platforms,” he said. “Politics is about momentum and he has none now. Where it used to be he was shooting tweets like Zeus, they were like thunderbolts from up high. Now it’s little squeaks from the mouse of Mar-a-Lago.”
One election result this week did show Trump’s influence on key electoral battles: voters in the small Illinois town of Mettewa re-elected a mayor who ran a write-in campaign after Trump pardoned him in a gambling investigation.
Casey Urlacher, the brother of the former Chicago Bears star Brian Urlacher, pleaded not guilty to federal charges of recruiting bettors in exchange for a cut of their losses. After the president pardoned him, he beat Jess Ray – by 151 votes to 105.