Golden statue of Donald Trump sparks debate at US conservative conference
The annual event is organised by the pro-Trump American Conservatives Union
US 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.
Idol worship isn't conservative
Prominent congressional conservatives - including Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and Representatives Steve Scalise and Matt Gaetz - were among the Trump loyalists speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, which the former president will address on Sunday.
"Let me tell you something: Donald Trump ain’t going anywhere," said Mr Cruz.
Mr Trump's tumultuous final weeks in office saw his supporters launch a deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to block Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's election victory, a win that Mr Trump falsely claimed was tainted by widespread fraud.
If there was any doubt that CPAC this year was devoted to Mr Trump, the gold-colored statue of the former president, dressed in a jacket, red tie and Stars-and-Stripes boxing shorts, was on display at the conference site.
Two participants wheeled the larger-than-life statue through the conference center lobby, according to a video on social media. It was unclear why the statue, showing a cartoonish version of Mr Trump with an oversize head, was there.
The statue drew instant derision online, with commentators comparing it to the golden calf that enraged the prophet Moses in the Old Testament.
"Idol worship isn't conservative. #RestoreOurGop," Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump on a charge of inciting the January 6 attack, said on Twitter.
Mr Gaetz declared himself part of the "pro-Trump, America First" wing of the conservative movement. "We're not really a wing, we're the whole body," he said.
He also appeared to forecast a future role for Mr Trump, who is pondering another run for president in 2024: "Trump may not have drained the swamp all the way – yet."
US Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who may run for the party's presidential nomination in 2024, sought to thread the needle between pledging loyalty to Mr Trump and signaling his aspirations for higher office.
He said "President Trump has flaws" but that he had made the party more approachable for working-class Americans.
“We will not win the future by going back to where the Republican Party used to be," Mr Scott said. "If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated. We’re going to lose elections across the country and ultimately we’re going to lose our nation."
Notable absences at CPAC
Mr Kinzinger's reservations about what he dismissed as 'idol worship' point to a growing, albeit small, rift within the Republican Party following Mr Trump's controversial presidency.
In addition to the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump, seven Senate Republicans voted to convict him of inciting insurrection, although the 57-43 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.
Many other senior Republicans did not attend this year's event. They included former Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Representative Liz Cheney - another House Republican who voted to impeach.
Updated: February 27, 2021 01:43 PM