Trump 'ain't going anywhere,' ally Cruz says as leading right-wing Republicans gather

Sen. Ted Cruz R Texas speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday Feb. 26 2021 in Orlando Fla

USA conservatives praised Donald Trump at an annual gathering on Friday, even unveiling a golden statue of the former president, showing he remains a Republican political force despite violent scenes in Washington last month.

In a video that began circulating on Friday morning, two people are seen wheeling out the statue while many supporters clap, take pictures, and shout cheers like, "That is so cool" and "Awesome", which are definitely adjectives often used when describing larger-than-life gold statues of people who have been impeached twice.

"That Pence will not appear is perhaps not surprising", Gillespie said, citing Trump's involvement in the riot on January 6 and public condemnations of Pence for not overturning the election results.

This weekend, conservative lawmakers, commentators and grassroots activists will mingle at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an event that serves as the basis for discussions and speeches about the present and future path of the Republican Party.

A source familiar with Trump's plans said the former president will be "talking about the future of the Republican Party" at CPAC and will criticize some of Biden's new policies. They overwhelmingly voted for the America First agenda. "We're not going back", Republican Representative Matt Gaetz said on Twitter.

DeSantis is one of several possible 2024 GOP presidential contenders scheduled to address the conference, which runs through Sunday.

"I think there's a disconnect between the Washington DC Republican Party and where the base is - and the base is still with Trump", lobbyist John Feehery, who worked in House Republican leadership for 15 years, told AFP. "We're going to lose elections across the country, and ultimately we're going to lose our nation".

Sen. Tom Cotton R-Ark. speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday Feb. 26 2021 in Orlando Fla
Sen. Tom Cotton R-Ark. speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 26 2021 in Orlando Fla

Hawley, another possible 2024 candidate, called himself part of the future of the party.

After losing the Senate and White House, and failing to retake the House of Representatives, a United States political party would normally lick its wounds, jettison its failed leader and chart a new path to claw back relevance.

Trump hasn't yet commented on the giant statue, but at last year's conference, he hugged the American flag and said, "I love you, baby", so we can probably expect a similar response this time around.

Trump will also offer red-meat rhetoric critical of his successor, Democrat President Joe Biden.

In a statement last January after his vote to impeach Trump, Gonzalez said the then-president "helped organize and incite a mob that attacked the United States Congress in an attempt to prevent us from completing our solemn duties as prescribed by the Constitution".

Many other senior Republicans did not attend this year's event.

Some advisers say they want Trump not to use his speech to relitigate the election at length but instead offer a road map to Republicans' regaining control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2022 congressional elections. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worry Trump will undermine the party's political future if he and his conspiracy theories continue to dominate Republican politics. It is a prime venue for speakers who want to gauge interest in whether they should run for president based on the enthusiasm they generate.

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