RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This weekend, former President Donald Trump will give his first public speech since leaving office. Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference - or CPAC - which starts tonight. This comes, of course, as the Republican Party wrestles with what role the former president should have in the party going forward. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: I mean, I guess CPAC has sort of just made its decision on what role President Trump should play in the party since they invited him in the first place.
MONTANARO: Yeah. You're not going to hear much about the Republican divide (laughter) at this CPAC.
MONTANARO: It's basically rolling out the red carpet for Trump. He's the most popular person in the party. And if you're not on board with that, you're probably not going to be at this CPAC. We did, though, see an interesting moment yesterday at a House Republican leadership conference - press conference that underscored this very real divide. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked if Trump should speak at CPAC. He said, yes, he should, of course. But a reporter wanted to know what Congresswoman Liz Cheney thought, too. Remember, she voted to impeach Trump. Here's what she had to say, followed by McCarthy's reaction.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIZ CHENEY: That's up to CPAC. I've been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following January 6, I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: On that high note, thank you all very much.
MARTIN: Not high note. McCarthy quips. Oh, awkward.
MONTANARO: So he walked off, press conference over. He'll speak at CPAC. Liz Cheney will not.
MARTIN: So let's talk about who will be there and who will not. Give us the rundown.
MONTANARO: Well, usually, you know, we pay attention to these things because there's something of a cattle call for presidential hopefuls, people like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. They'll all be speaking. And they might be thinking about running in 2024. But it's - but Trump's not out of the picture. He, you know, has let it be known that he's thinking about it. And that's effectively frozen the field. You can also tell a lot by who won't be there, people like Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who got into that very public feud with Trump about the Capitol riot, Mitt Romney, who's been a vocal Trump critic but had done very well at CPAC previously - Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, same situation. That strand of libertarianism is just kind of gone from the Republican Party. And Mike Pence was invited, the - Trump's former vice president. But he is not going to be speaking as well.
MARTIN: I mean, what does this tell you about the state of the modern GOP, Domenico?
MONTANARO: I mean, you know, look; like CPAC, it's gone through a lot of different iterations. I mean, there'd been this messy tension between traditional establishment Republicans and Tea Party types, included, like I said, this strong libertarian streak. Now it is all about Trump, so much so that this conference is elevating his false claims of widespread election fraud, which there's no evidence for. Here's Matt Schlapp, who's chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors this event, trying to draw a fine line on CNN earlier this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MATT SCHLAPP: Joe Biden is my president, OK? He won the election. That doesn't mean that there wasn't voter fraud and voter irregularity in the last election.
MONTANARO: So you can hear the kind of pivot he's trying to make. And, you know, look, Schlapp is - claimed that there was widespread fraud, which has been debunked repeatedly by dozens of courts where Trump lost in case after case. But, you know, CPAC's going to have dozens of panels about the election, names like Other Culprits: Why Judges And The Media Refuse To Look At The Evidence - and Failed States: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Oh, My. Look; it tells me Republicans, in this age of Trump, with him as their leader, they're going to continue to try to walk this tightrope between reality and, frankly, dangerous conspiracies.
MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "HOURGLASS")
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