MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) - Donors to the Republican National Committee gathered this weekend for the first time since Donald Trump's defeat just down the road from his Mar-a-Lago home -- a sign that the institutions of the party remain centered around the former President.
The bulk of the RNC's spring retreat took place a 10-minute drive south of Trump's club, at Palm Beach's Four Seasons resort. There, around 360 donors mingled poolside at the beachfront hotel with Republican officials, including chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and co-chair Tommy Hicks. But on Saturday night, guests will be shuttled up the road to Mar-a-Lago, where Trump will address the retreat behind closed doors.
With the party completely out of power in Washington for the first time in four years, GOP donors have been eager to hear from leaders about how Republicans can win back the House and Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024. But the question of how big a role Trump will and should play in the GOP future looms.
For the former President's boosters, the weekend is another clear example that the party remains loyal to Trump.
"Saturday's speech will be welcomed words to the Republican donors visiting Mar-a-Lago to hear directly from President Trump," said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump. "Palm Beach is the new political power center, and President Trump is the Republican Party's best messenger."
Trump dominated the retreat even before his headliner event on Saturday. The possibility he may run for president again in 2024 remains a difficult reality for those Republicans who are also considering bids and trying to court relationships with political benefactors.
While the Palm Beach location was a concession of convenience to Trump, the presence of other Republican White House hopefuls is meant to signal the RNC's official policy of neutrality toward the 2024 primary.
The potential candidates include three of Florida's top elected officials: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, both of whom may also run for president, spoke at the retreat too.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been making moves that suggest a White House run, was scheduled to appear but did not.
Most of the donors attending the retreat were both staunch Trump backers -- one was spotted on Friday walking out to the Four Seasons pool deck donning a blue "Make America Great Again" ballcap -- and faithful Republicans looking to build the party back.
That endeavor is more complicated for the sizable number of GOP donors who are not so enamored with Trump but want to help the party regain power in Washington.
"No one knows what the Trump effect will be in 2022 or 2024. He has promised to primary (Republicans who don't support him), so a great number of them don't want to risk that," said Fred Zeidman, a Republican donor from Texas who was not in Palm Beach. "He has not made a statement about not running in 2024, so it limits what anyone can do now, for fear of alienating the Trump supporters."
The special guest list for the closed-press retreat, obtained by CNN, shows a slate of speakers firmly in Trump's camp of the Republican Party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and former Trump White House aide Kellyanne Conway.
Also there to gladhand with donors were former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and two rivals for the GOP nomination for US Senate in Ohio -- Jane Timken and Josh Mandel, both of whom have been touting their pro-Trump credentials.
(©2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)
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