BY: QUINN SCANLAN and MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Day Two of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — considered a barometer of the Republican Party’s base — is underway in Orlando, Florida. And as was the case on Friday, speakers stood not only behind former President Donald Trump but also some of his most inflammatory and false ideas.
The conference — called “TPAC” for Trump Political Action Conference on Friday by Donald Trump Jr. — has so far been less about traditional conservative values and more centered around loyalty to Trump, allegiance to his discredited claims of election fraud and attacks on Democrats.
“The least popular in our party are the ones who want to erase Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s supporters from our party,” Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said. “If that happens, we won’t win back the majority in 2022. We definitely won’t win back to the White House in 2024 if we erase Donald Trump.”
Trump hasn’t appeared at the conference yet — he will make his first major address since leaving office at it on Sunday — though attendees posed with a golden chrome-painted statue of the former president. The 200-pound fiberglass replica was made in Mexico by an American ex-pat, according to Politico.
Trump lost the presidential election by about 7 million votes, and the election results were certified in every battleground state. His campaign’s efforts to challenge the outcome with baseless election fraud claims failed in court dozens of times.
Still, on Saturday, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, a Freedom Caucus member and one of the chief deniers of the results — who was the surprise keynote speaker at a conference Friday night in Orlando, Florida, where speakers spread white nationalist rhetoric — reignited conspiracies about the election being rigged.
“We had a great ruling in Arizona,” Gosar said during a panel about immigration. “As many of you know, there were indices of fraud that were out in Arizona, and yesterday, a federal district court judge allowed the state legislature, who has supremacy over the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, to access the Dominion machines and the ballots.”
On Friday, a judge ruled that Maricopa County must turn over the ballots from the November election to the state Senate and provide access to its voting machines so an audit can be conducted, according to the Arizona Republic. The state Senate had issued a subpoena for the ballots. The county has conducted multiple audits before and after the election. As was the case in every other state, no widespread election fraud has been discovered in Arizona and the Trump campaign’s challenges to the results failed in court.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., blamed his state’s election losses on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
“I guarantee you, Georgia is not blue, and what happened this election was solely because of a horrible secretary of state and horrible decisions that he made,” he said during a panel on “Who’s Really Running the Biden Administration.” “And the Georgia General Assembly even now is in process of fixing a lot of that, and so I think we’re going to see some tremendous change in that regard.”
Raffensperger has said that Trump was “just plain wrong” about rampant voter fraud in the state and that the election followed the law.
Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly have introduced more than a dozen election/voting bills. Voting rights advocates and Democrats have warned they will have significant restrictions on voting, particularly for non-white residents.
During the panel, Hice conceded that Democrats did better than Republicans at registering voters.
“But listen we have got to register the voters,” he said. “The Democrats outdid us when it came to registering new voters, and they got those folks out to vote.”
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall effort, was a frequent target Saturday.
Former Ambassador Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, said, “In my three decades in American politics, I have never seen a better case for a recall, than there is right now in California.”
He said someone should challenge Newsom, saying, “If a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises, and if you can’t limit their term or recall them in time, there’s always one other option. You can run against them yourself.”
Politico reported he was laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid if the effort to recall Newsom is successful, but Grenell denied that to ABC News after this story published. He also said he is not running for governor in 2022.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood firmly behind Trump’s “America First” agenda on Saturday, while California Rep. Devin Nunes touched on the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House overnight with no Republican support, calling it a “slush fund.”
During a panel about “fighting communist China,” Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty said he thinks Trump’s administration, in which he served as the ambassador to Japan, will go down as one of the “most consequential” in history.
Former U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer followed up by saying Trump may not be done yet.
“He may have more!” Lighthizer said.
Editor’s Note: This story previously stated that, according to Politico, former Ambassador Richard Grenell was laying the groundwork to run for governor of California if the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom successfully made it on the ballot. After this story published, Grenell denied that to ABC News and said he would not run in 2022 either.
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