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Trump, DeSantis rival events accent US Republican divide



Washington, DC – A schism in the United States conservative movement is on display among Republicans, with the presumed presidential frontrunners attending separate major events and constituencies divided on issues such as aid to Ukraine, defence spending, the debt ceiling and the role of the US government.

Former President Donald Trump, who has already declared his intention to run for a second term in 2024, will headline the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that kicked off this week just outside Washington, DC. Once the dominant event in conservative politics, it has lost some of its lustre as it embraced Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) constituency.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, considered Trump’s strongest competitor, is skipping CPAC in favour of an exclusive donor retreat sponsored by the anti-tax Club For Growth conservative organisation. Trump, once supported by the group, has not been invited to the closed-door gathering being held in Palm Beach, Florida, near his Mar-a-Lago estate.

The duelling events have divided prominent Republicans who served under Trump, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo choosing CPAC, former Vice President Mike Pence heading to the retreat and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, speaking at both. Haley announced her 2024 presidential run last month.


“There are always divides in parties and those become heightened by presidential primaries,” Republican consultant Doug Heye told Al Jazeera. It is not clear at the moment how big that Republican divide is, he said.

DeSantis has not yet declared his candidacy but is already behaving like a man on the stump, as he tours across the country promoting his new book The Courage to be Free, which lays out his policy agenda.

The governor has brandished his conservative agenda and won praise from many on the right by signing a series of laws, including on cultural issues, as well putting a limit on corporate America, some of his favourite targets.

On Monday, DeSantis signed a bill to end the self-governing status of Disney World, after the corporation last year criticised his Parental Rights in Education law, which limited teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation. DeSantis’s tough stance towards big business stands in sharp contrast to the previous embrace of many Republicans. “In this environment, old-guard corporate Republicanism is not up to the task at hand,” DeSantis wrote in his book.

Earlier this week, Trump unveiled a trade proposal which would follow his previous tough line towards China. His policy, which calls for universal baseline tariffs and revoking Beijing’s most favoured nation trading status, angered a major Republican constituency: rural Americans, including farmers who depend on the Chinese market.

Potential presidential candidates will face challenges in a conservative movement today made up of various, and at times conflicting, philosophies.

“It’s not clear yet whether any divides are more or less than in the past. How [the] debt ceiling is handled may be telling on this,” Heye said.

Raising or suspending the US debt ceiling, the amount of money the US is allowed to owe, is the responsibility of Congress, which has done it 20 times since 2002. But some conservatives want more spending cuts before considering an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling and are threatening to allow the US to default rather than relent. A default, which has never occurred in US history, would have disastrous consequences for its economy.

Republicans are also divided on defence spending. A large defence budget was once a unified party priority, but some on the political right want budget cuts to include defence in order to bring down federal spending. Their opponents argue that runs counter to conservative ideals.

US military and financial support for Ukraine has also split conservatives.

“I will work with anyone and everyone … to end wars … to stop sending money to Ukraine,” Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican, said at the Turning Point conservative conference in January. Trump has also been critical of Democratic President Joe Biden’s Ukraine actions.

“If you watch and understand the moves being made by Biden on Ukraine, he is systematically, but perhaps unknowingly, pushing us into what could soon be WORLD WAR III,” Trump said on Truth Social, his social media platform.

DeSantis told Fox News last month that US aid was little more than “an open-ended blank cheque”.

Other Republicans running or expected to run for president strongly disagree. Asked if the US should just open the chequebook, Haley told Fox News: “We shouldn’t send blank cheques. We shouldn’t put troops on the ground. We should give them the equipment to defend themselves because this is a war that they’re winning. This is not a war about Russia and Ukraine. It’s about freedom. And it’s one that we have to win.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence agreed. “We’ve got to stay in the fight,” he said on another Fox News show. “It’s absolutely essential that we see it through.”

Republican consultant Alice Stewart called those in the party who want to discontinue aid to Ukraine a “vocal minority”.

“The majority of Republicans understand the need and value to support Ukraine,” she explained, but they want more transparency over how the money is spent.

While some of the policy differences in the movement may be stark, veteran Republican leader Saul Anuzis told Al Jazeera the divide was healthy for the conservative cause.

“In whole, it is a centre-right movement that comes together” to oppose the Democratic agenda, Anuzis, a former head of the Michigan state Republican Party, said. He called it a “natural progression” of growth as the movement becomes bigger and broader.

An indication of which faction is dominant could come with CPAC’s straw poll, which used to be a strong indicator of conservative support for a candidate.

“The results of that will be interesting,” said Stewart.

Trump has been criticised for a slow campaign start after announcing his re-election bid in November. The CPAC speech is one of the few big events he’s held since then. He has mostly confined his campaign activity to releasing policy papers and posting on his social media site criticism of DeSantis as well as numerous attacks on his favourite targets, Biden and the media.

If Trump does not fare well in the straw poll, it could raise questions about his campaign. If another candidate fares better than expected, he or she will likely get a boost.


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Watch: Bethany Mandel, a conservative author, was asked to define 'woke'. Her response went viral – CNN



Question stumps conservative commentator, goes viral

Conservative author Bethany Mandel, whose new book is centered around the term “woke,” struggled to define it during an interview. CNN anchor Abby Phillip and the “Inside Politics” panel discuss the debate surrounding the term.


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Foreign interference: Conservatives forcing vote on new study – CTV News



In an effort to keep the foreign interference story at the forefront, and to do an apparent end run around the Liberal filibuster blocking one study from going ahead, the Conservatives forced the House to spend Monday debating a motion instructing an opposition-dominated House committee to strike its own review.

Monday was a Conservative opposition day in the House of Commons, allowing the Official Opposition to set the agenda, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre picked a motion that, if passed, would have the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee embark on a fresh foreign interference study. The motion is set to come to a vote on Tuesday.

The motion also contains clear instructions that the committee—chaired by Conservative MP John Brassard— call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to testify under oath, followed by numerous other officials and players believed to have insight surrounding allegations of interference by China in last two federal elections.


Among the other names the Conservatives are pushing to come testify: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, authors of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol reports for the 2019 and 2021 elections James Judd and Morris Rosenberg, respectively, and former Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation officials.

Also on the list: many federal security officials who have already testified and told MPs they are limited in what they can say publicly, current and former ambassadors to China, a panel of past national campaign directors as well as the representatives on the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) task force from each major party.

Trudeau’s name is not on the witness list, but that could change down the line depending on the trajectory of the testimony and how the story evolves. In order to fit in what would be more than a dozen additional hours of testimony, the motion prescribes that the committee meet at least one extra day each week regardless of whether the House is sitting, and have priority access to House resources.

All of this was sparked by The Globe and Mail and Global News reports citing largely unnamed intelligence sources alleging specific attempts by Beijing to alter the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 campaigns and what the opposition thinks is an insufficient response by the Liberal government. 

Officials have repeatedly asserted the integrity of both elections held, despite China’s interference efforts.


The Conservative motion dominated Monday’s question period, with two central questions swirling: How will the NDP vote? And will the Liberals make it a confidence vote?

So far the NDP have not tipped their hat in terms of their voting intention, with signals being sent that the caucus is still considering its options, while expressing some concerns with the motion’s scope and witness list. 

During debate, NDP House Leader Peter Julian said that while the motion has some positive elements, others are curious. He pointed to a motion the New Democrats will be advancing later this week, asking for a public inquiry into foreign interference efforts broadly, as better addressing Canadians’ calls than focusing in just on China. 

The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois wouldn’t have the votes to see it pass without them, and one-by-one Conservative MPs have risen in the House to put more pressure on the NDP to vote with them. 

“While this motion is a test for this government, it is also a test for the NDP,” said Conservative MP and one of the party’s leading spokespeople on the story Michael Cooper, kicking off the debate on Monday.

“The NDP has a choice: They can continue to do the bidding for this corrupt Liberal government, propping up this corrupt prime minister. Or, they can work with us to protect the sanctity of the ballot box and the integrity of our elections by working to get the answers that Canadians deserve… We will soon find out what choice they make,” Cooper said.

The New Democrats have been in favour of an as-public-as-possible airing of the facts around interference, including hearing from Telford and other top staffers, as they’ve been pushing for at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC).That effort though, has been stymied by close to 24 hours of Liberal filibustering preventing the proposal from coming to a vote.

If the New Democrats support Poilievre’s motion, it’ll pass and spark this new committee study.

But, if the Liberals want to shut this effort down, Trudeau could declare it a confidence motion and tie NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s hands, unless he’s ready to end the confidence-and-supply agreement, which is coming up on its one-year anniversary. 

The premise of the pact is that the NDP would prop-up the Liberals on any confidence votes in exchange for progressive policy action. Part of the deal predicates discussions between the two parties on vote intentions ahead of declaring a vote is a matter of confidence.

In weighing whether this is confidence vote-worthy, Trudeau would likely be assessing whether risking an election call over an election interference controversy —which could be the result of a failed confidence vote given the Liberals’ minority standing—is the right move.

Asked by reporters on Monday whether the prime minister will be designating the vote a matter of confidence, Government House Leader Mark Holland wouldn’t say.

“We are having ongoing discussions and dialogue. I think that it’s not helpful to jump to the end of a process when we’re still having conversations, Holland said. “I understand the temptation to go to the end of the process when we’re still in the middle of it…We’re in a situation right now where we continue to have these discussions.”

In weighing whether this is confidence vote-worthy, Trudeau’s top advisers would likely be assessing whether risking an election call over an election interference controversy —which could be the result of a failed confidence vote given the Liberals’ minority standing—is the right move.

Decrying the motion as “heavily steeped in partisan politics” with the objective of playing “games with what is an enormously serious issue,” Holland suggested that some of those listed by the Conservatives, including Telford, were not best placed to speak to concerns around foreign interference in the last two elections.

“It is not a move aimed at trying to get answers, or trying to get information,” Holland said.

The Liberal House leader also echoed the prime minister’s past position that calling staffers who can’t say much, and other officials who have already testified, to come and say again that they’re unable to answer more detailed questions due to their oaths to uphold national security, won’t help assuage Canadians’ concerns over China’s interference.


During his time as democratic reform minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Poilievre was opposed—as the Liberals are now— to having staff testify at committees.

Asked why it is so important from his party’s perspective to have Telford appear, Poilievre said last week that because she’s been involved with Trudeau’s campaigns, from his leadership bid through the last two federal elections, she would be aware of all of the intelligence briefings he’d been provided. He did not acknowledge that, like the prime minister, she too would be restricted in speaking publicly about them.

“She knows all the secrets. It’s time for her to come forward and honestly testify about what happened. What was Beijing’s role in supporting Justin Trudeau? And how do we prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again in Canada?” Poilievre said.

This move comes after Trudeau’s pick of former governor general David Johnston as the special rapporteur to look into foreign interference and provide recommendations to further shore up Canada’s democracy became highly politicized over Conservative and Bloc Quebecois questioning of his impartiality and potential conflict of interest given his connections to the Trudeau family and foundation.

On Friday, Trudeau said the Conservatives are politicizing the important issue of Canadians’ confidence in elections, while defending his pick as “absolutely unimpeachable.” He sought to explain why he’s gone the route of tapping an independent investigator and asking for closed-door national security bodies to review the facts.

“Canadians aren’t even sure if this government is really focused on their best interests or is in the pockets of some foreign government. That’s something that needs to be dealt with extraordinarily seriously,” Trudeau said. “And the partisan nature of politics means that no matter what I say, people are going to wonder— if they didn’t vote for me— whether or not they can trust me. And that polarization is getting even more serious.”

Pointing to Poilievre’s past cabinet position, Trudeau noted: “He was in charge of the integrity of our elections. He was in charge at the time, of making sure that China or others weren’t influencing our elections. He understands how important this, or he should.” 

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This ain't no party, but populism is destroying our federal politics – The Hill Times



Something fundamental, and dangerous, has happened to the normally partisan world of politics, with all it warts. Populism has arrived like an 18-wheeler crashing into a bridge abutment, scattering its ugly cargo of racism, xenophobia, and trumped up distrust of government and government institutions all over the road.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Incumbent governments are not just incompetent boobs who are mucking things up and ought to be shown the door. They are now the ‘enemy,’ who must not only be replaced, but wiped out, writes Michael Harris.


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