At donor retreat, Trump calls Biden administration the 'Gestapo'

Trump's comments about welfare to wealthy donors at the event called to mind remarks caught on tape by Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential run, when he dismissed 47 per cent of voters as off-limits because they did not pay taxes.
Last Updated : 05 May 2024, 04:12 IST
Last Updated : 05 May 2024, 04:12 IST

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Fresh from his criminal trial in New York, Donald Trump delivered a frustrated and often profane roughly 75-minute speech at a Republican National Committee donor retreat in Florida on Saturday, attacking one of the prosecutors pursuing him and comparing President Joe Biden's administration to the Nazis.

"These people are running a Gestapo administration," Trump told donors who attended the event at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, according to an audio recording obtained by The New York Times.

Trump entered the event to the recording of the national anthem that he made with a group of people arrested in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob seeking to disrupt the certification of Biden's Electoral College win. Trump praised the song.

In his speech, he complained repeatedly about the criminal trial in Manhattan, to which he will return Monday, insisted that Democrats use "welfare" to cheat in elections and said he would need an attorney general with "courage" as he mocked his former attorney general, William Barr, who recently endorsed him after speaking critically of Trump since the administration ended.

Trump also indulged in conspiracy theories around his 2020 loss, and said that his hand-picked RNC chair, Michael Whatley, would prevent "cheating" in the upcoming election.

Trump's comments about welfare to wealthy donors at the event called to mind remarks caught on tape by Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential run, when he dismissed 47 per cent of voters as off-limits because they did not pay taxes.

"When you are Democrat, you start off essentially at 40% because you have civil service, you have the unions and you have welfare," Trump said Saturday. "And don't underestimate welfare. They get welfare to vote, and then they cheat on top of that -- they cheat."

But Trump focused more on his own legal jeopardy, as he faces four different indictments and 88 criminal charges; on Friday, he had to listen in court to his former communications adviser, Hope Hicks, testify in the trial in which he is accused of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments made to a porn actor.

He also spent several minutes acknowledging Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois whose lengthy prison sentence after being convicted of corruption charges was commuted by Trump, and who was at the RNC event.

The former president said that he came to the decision to issue the pardon after seeing Blagojevich's wife on television advocating his release, and that it was sealed that he would intervene when he learned that James Comey, the former FBI director whom Trump fired amid an investigation into Trump and his campaign, was connected to the Blagojevich investigation.

Trump also mocked the physical appearance of Jack Smith, the special counsel who has indicted him twice.

"He's unattractive both inside and out," Trump said. "This is one unattractive dude." He then used two expletives to describe Smith.

He praised House Speaker Mike Johnson, who, in his own remarks, said the nation needed "a strong man" in the White House.

At another point, Trump said that if anyone wanted to donate $1 million to the RNC on the spot, "I will let you come up and speak." He sounded disappointed until someone accepted the invitation.

Trump laid blame for the slim margin in the House on the issue of abortion, after he appointed the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, for which he has repeatedly taken credit. "We had a rough thing because of the, you know, the issue of abortion largely. I think we would have had 45 seats more," Trump said.

The meandering remarks drew a sharp contrast with the specifics provided by Trump's top advisers at a presentation earlier Saturday. His advisers said that Trump's campaign and the party were projected to raise $76.2 million in April, according to two people who attended the briefing.

Trump's three top advisers -- Susie Wiles, Chris LaCivita and Tony Fabrizio -- briefed donors, presented a slideshow and took questions afterward, the attendees said. The attendees were not authorized to speak publicly about the event, which was a closed-door briefing and gathering for party donors.

Trump's advisers presented a bullish case for the candidate that included the possibility of expanding the electoral map to include the Democratic-leaning states of Minnesota and Virginia. They also noted that Trump has remained mostly ahead in polls even while being outspent by Biden, just as the former president was outspent in the primary by his rivals.

The Federal Election Commission will not receive fundraising reports until later this month, meaning the numbers can't be verified until then. In March, Trump and his allied groups reported raising $65.6 million -- a significant amount, but still well below what Biden and his affiliated outside groups have raised.

The slideshow presentation included three different Electoral College maps, the attendees said. The first was dismissed as "the media's version," which included seven swing states: Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina across the Southwest and the Sun Belt, plus Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in the industrial north.

A second slide described "the actual current reality" as only having three swing states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

And a third slide described an "expanded reality" in which both Minnesota and Virginia would be in play for Trump -- an ambitious view of states not widely seen as among the most competitive, but in which the Trump team insists the former president has gained ground.

Trump's advisers also described some of their strategy for the general election in the presentation, including reaching 2016 levels of support with white voters and expanding support among Black and Latino voters, particularly among urban men.

The campaign strategists also outlined a plan to prevent the kinds of losses that occurred in 2022 that have been linked to the issue of abortion and the backlash from the Supreme Court's overturning of federal abortion rights before the midterm elections.

Trump has proudly claimed ownership of the end of Roe v. Wade as the president who appointed a conservative supermajority to the highest court in the country. But he has struggled to answer questions about it since, waffling in discussions with advisers about whether to back a national ban, before ultimately saying in a video he posted a few weeks ago that it's up to states to decide how to handle the issue.

Published 05 May 2024, 04:12 IST

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