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Trump’s Republican Hit List at CPAC Is a Warning Shot to His Party

ORLANDO, Fla. — After days of insisting they could paper over their intraparty divisions, Republican lawmakers were met with a grim reminder of the challenge ahead on Sunday when former President Donald J. Trump stood before a conservative conference and ominously listed the names of Republicans he is targeting for defeat.

As Democrats pursue a liberal agenda in Washington, the former president’s grievances over the 2020 election continue to animate much of his party, more than a month after he left office and nearly four months since he lost the election. Many G.O.P. leaders and activists are more focused on litigating false claims about voting fraud in last year’s campaign, assailing the technology companies that deplatformed Mr. Trump and punishing lawmakers who broke with him over his desperate bid to retain power.

In an address on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, his first public appearance since he left the White House, Mr. Trump read a sort of hit list of every congressional Republican who voted to impeach him, all but vowing revenge.

“The RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself,” he said, a reference to the phrase “Republicans In Name Only,” adding that he would be “actively working to elect strong, tough and smart Republican leaders.”

Mr. Trump took special care to single out Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. He called Ms. Cheney “a warmonger” and said her “poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen.” Then he falsely claimed he had helped revive Mr. McConnell’s campaign last year in Kentucky.

Ms. Cheney and Mr. McConnell have harshly criticized Mr. Trump over his role in inciting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, and Ms. Cheney has repeatedly said that the G.O.P. should cut ties with the former president.

With his refusal to concede defeat and his determination to isolate G.O.P. leaders who criticize him, the former president has effectively denied Republicans from engaging in the sort of reckoning that parties traditionally undertake after they lose power.

Even with Democrats controlling Congress and the White House for the first time in over a decade, many of the Republicans who spoke at the conference here said strikingly little about President Biden or the nearly $2 trillion stimulus measure the House passed early Saturday, which congressional Republicans uniformly opposed.

“As the American people see the bad ideas that destroy jobs and strip away our liberties, there’s a natural pendulum to politics,” Mr. Cruz said, predicting that Republican activists would “absolutely” pay more attention to the current administration later this year.

Mr. Trump made a specific pitch for people to donate to two committees associated with him, a notable move given that he has been the Republican National Committee’s biggest draw for the last four years. He gave an explicit description of “Trumpism” as a political ideology focused on geopolitical deal-making and immigration restrictions, and painted the Republicans who voted for impeachment as decided outliers in an otherwise united party.

In some ways, the former president’s re-emergence at CPAC represented a full-circle moment. He first tested the right’s political waters in 2011 when he appeared at the conference and used his speech to belittle other Republicans and denounce China as a growing power.

To the delight of the party’s current lawmakers, however, Mr. Trump announced on Sunday that he would not create a breakaway right-wing party. “We’re not starting new parties,” he said of an idea he was privately musing about just last month. Less satisfying to many Republican leaders, at least those ready to move on, was the former president’s musing about a potential run in 2024. “Who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time,” he said, bringing attendees to their feet.

Mr. Trump, of course, lost the election last year.

But that did not stop him from repeatedly, and falsely, claiming in his speech that he had won. After mostly sticking to his prepared text for the first hour of his 90-minute speech — and listing what he said were the accomplishments of his tenure — the former president grew animated and angry as he veered off the teleprompter to vent about his loss.

At one point, Mr. Trump did something he never did as president — expressly called on people to take the coronavirus vaccines that he had pressed for and hoped would help him in his re-election effort. But he mocked Mr. Biden for stumbling during a CNN town hall event and attacked him over comments the president made about the limited number of vaccines available when he took office.

Mr. Trump also mocked transgender people who participate in women’s sports. The comments represented a much more forceful attack on transgender people than his remarks while in office, when he placed significant restrictions on L.G.B.T.Q.-related rights.

The former president’s aides had been looking for an opportunity for him to re-emerge and debated whether to put on a rally-type event of their own or take advantage of the forum of CPAC, which relocated to Mr. Trump’s new home state from suburban Washington because Florida has more lenient coronavirus restrictions.

Mr. Trump and his aides worked with him on the speech for several days at his newly built office above the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago, his private club near the Atlantic Ocean. Without his Twitter feed, Mr. Trump has been using specific moments — the death of the radio host Rush Limbaugh and Tiger Woods’s car crash — to inject himself into the news cycle.

Outside prepared statements, though, he has said far less since Jan. 20 about the future of the G.O.P. and his own lingering ambitions.

Interviews at CPAC suggested that a number of conservatives, while still supportive of Mr. Trump, are ambivalent about whether he should run again in 2024. That was borne out in the conference’s straw poll, during which the former president enjoyed overwhelming approval — but also more uncertainty about whether he ought to lead the party in three years.

Thirty-two percent of those who participated in the straw poll — a heavily conservative and self-selecting constituency — said they did not want Mr. Trump to run again or were unsure if he should.

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