Donald Trump Spends His Days Gossiping, Golfing and Plotting Revenge on RINOs

donald trump CPAC 2024 2022
At home in Mar-a-Lago, ex-President Trump is busy planning to primary "disloyal" Republicans. Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump seems calm. Hanging out at Mar-a-Lago, his palatial club in West Palm Beach, Florida, the former president plays golf, mingles with members of the club, calls old business friends in New York and Florida. The frustration and anger that followed his election loss is not visible on the surface, friends say.

But, they add, the anger is still very much there. According to several Trump allies who spoke to Newsweek on background, the former president has spent much of his time at Mar-a-lago plotting what to do—and what not to do— between now and the mid term elections in 2022. They say he has not decided whether to run again in 2024, and won't anytime soon, because his presence freezes the Presidential race for the GOP. They also say he has ruled out trying to start a social media or digital broadcasting company—widely rumored in 2020— saying it would be too time consuming and too expensive to pull off. Even though Trump remains "intensely frustrated" with the bans on him on Facebook and Twitter, the idea of starting some sort of competing presence ''was always mostly speculation; there wasn't much to it. It's too heavy a lift," says a former senior campaign aide who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Trump begins most days with a call between 8 and 9 am with Jason Miller, a longtime communications aide and a senior official in the campaign. They talk about current events and what Trump might say publicly about things like the growing crisis on the border with Mexico. (Miller's Twitter feed has become an occasional proxy for Trump to communicate with his supporters. Miller's pinned tweet, for example: Acquitted forever.) "He's always read all the papers, watched the morning shows, watched cable news. He's not missing much," Miller told former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon in a recent interview. The retinue of advisers still around Trump—which includes, among others, 2016 campaign aide Corey Lewandowski and former 2020 campaign managers Brad Parscale and Bill Stepien—have begun to do granular analysis on key 2022 races in key states, for the House, the Senate and governors races, sources around the former president say. They're trying to figure out who to endorse, who to recruit as potential candidates—and which incumbents to "primary.''

Donald Trump Jr. is ever-present in these discussions. Son-in-law Jared Kushner, notably, is not. Kushner, Ivanka Trump's husband, was Trump's closest aide during his presidency and the de facto campaign manager in 2020. Press reports have said, in the wake of the election loss and the January 6 debacle at Capitol Hill, that he and the former president are now estranged, with Trump blaming Kushner for the loss. But three current and former advisers to Trump and one close friend all tell Newsweek that's wrong. "Trump might have popped off about Jared after the election, but he's smart enough to know it wasn't his fault." The aides say, simply, that Jared and Ivanka are taking a break from politics, as are a few of Jared's allies in the administration. ''I'm just trying to stay out of things," said one. Should Trump decide to run in 2024, the people around Trump say they expect Kushner will be on board.

The political analysis Trump's team is doing around the 2022 midterms is rooted in two things, aides say. First is to remake the GOP in Trump's image: to make it more populist, more nationalist, more focused on the working class. Trump's political action committee—the Save America PAC, which has raised $80 million already—will donate to candidates who hew to Trump's lines. Tough on border security, tough on China, energy independence, and ending ''forever wars."

The second agenda? To settle scores. Aides say underneath the more relaxed presence Trump puts forward as he putters around his club is still an intense anger over the result of the November election, the result of the special Georgia Senate elections that followed, and how the riots at the Capitol on January 6 have been characterized.
His anger spreads far and wide within GOP precincts. Aides are trying to focus it on GOP elected officials who face re-election in 2022, and who are perceived as "disloyal." That starts with Liz Cheney, the congressional representative from Wyoming, who voted in favor of impeachment for the Capitol riot and then, to Trump's rage, was re-elected to her leadership position within the Republican Congressional caucus. "She's got a target on her back, no question," says another Trump political adviser who didn't want to speak on the record. Whether it's realistic to knock her off, given how popular the Cheney name has been politically in Wyoming, is another question. But there are nine other GOP Congressmen who voted for impeachment, and Trump has asked his team to identify credible primary opponents for all of them.

The Trump SuperPac has said one of its goals is to get rid of all ''RINOS"—Republicans in name only. In this election cycle, in addition to the ten Congressional reps who voted for impeachment, that also includes GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, who did not vote to convict but did say, "the president's behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation." She is up for re-election in two years and Trump wants her gone, associates say.

To Trump, ''RINOS'' include other prominent senators, including Mitch McConnell, who also denounced the president though voted to acquit, and traditional free trade, strong defense Republicans like Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah. To Trump's dismay, none are up for re-election in 2022.

Looming over all the Mar-a-Lago machinations is a big question, Trump friends acknowledge: can the former president simply rehash the same themes in the same way, again and again, as he did at the CPAC conference a month ago, and expect to win again? Or does he need to tweak his message in response to shifting events over the next two years and beyond? His response to public criticism of the speech (which was his first since Joe Biden's inauguration) from former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove—Trump labeled him a "RINO," too—suggests not. But a close Florida friend of Trump's acknowledges that that speech was "too long, too meandering, a rehash of the greatest hits. It would have been much better had it been tighter, with an eye cast to the future," this friend says. "It would have made more of an impact."

Has anyone at Mar-a-Lago said that to the former president?

The friend sighs and says, "I doubt it. I know I haven't."