As the Republican Party grapples with deep divisions over the extent to which they should embrace Trump after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress, those gathered at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference made clear they are not ready to move on from the former president - or from his baseless charges that the November election was rigged against him.
Two participants wheeled the larger-than-life statue through the conference center lobby, according to a video on social media.
"That Pence will not appear is perhaps not surprising", Gillespie said, citing Trump's involvement in the riot on January 6 and public condemnations of Pence for not overturning the election results.
While Trump has largely kept to himself at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, after spending months promoting the falsehood that the election was stolen, strategists and many lawmakers say he remains the dominant conservative political force.
"The meeting is an indication of the deep splits in the Republican party that will create problems for them in future elections", said Michael A. Gillespie, a political science and philosophy professor at Duke University. Ted Cruz, one of several potential 2024 presidential contenders who spoke at the event, being held this year in Orlando to bypass COVID-19 restrictions. "We're not going back", Republican Representative Matt Gaetz said on Twitter.
"We will not win the future by going back to where the Republican Party used to be", Scott said.
Trump allies told Axios earlier this week that former president will display his grip and influence over the Republican Party in a "show of force" keynote address. "If we argue with ourselves, we're going to lose".
After losing the Senate and White House, and failing to retake the House of Representatives, a U.S. political party would normally lick its wounds, jettison its failed leader and chart a new path to claw back relevance.
"The divide right now is between the "Beltway elites" and the conservative grassroots around the country", said a Trump adviser who helped prepare the speech.
Trump is expected to talk on Sunday about the future of the party and lay out policy differences within a group riven by differences in the wake of his chaotic four years in office.
Trump will also offer red-meat rhetoric critical of his successor, Democrat President Joe Biden.
Party officials are taking Toomey to task for his vote to convict Donald Trump during the former president's second impeachment trial.
The theme of this year's conference is "America Uncanceled", and at least seven panels are devoted to "protecting elections", a call to Trump's false claims that he lost the 2020 election due to voter fraud.
Trump's backers note he drew 74 million votes, more than any other Republican candidate in history, though that number was dwarfed by the 81 million people who voted for Biden in the record-setting November election. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worry Trump will undermine the party's political future if he and his conspiracy theories continue to dominate Republican politics.
CPAC is an event organized by the American Conservative Union, whose chairman, Matt Schlapp, is close to Trump.