Trump allies line up ahead of potentially bruising primaries
Former President Trump’s pledge to line up an army of loyalists to run in the 2022 midterm elections is beginning to take shape.
Two allies of the former president, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, jumped into the open Senate races in Alabama and Missouri on Monday evening. Trump hasn’t weighed in on either race yet, but both candidates are touting themselves as acolytes of the former president who would build on his ultra-conservative political legacy.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Trump has thrown his support behind Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who is running to oust Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. That endorsement marks a high-profile effort by Trump to exact political revenge on a fellow Republican who rejected the former president’s pleas to overturn the results of the state’s presidential election.
The campaigns by hard-right politicians offer Trump perhaps his best chance to cement his grip on the Republican Party in his post-presidential life. But it is also likely to do little to unify a party that has wrestled with deep internal and ideological divisions since losing the White House and its Senate majority in recent months.
Speaking in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., on Monday night, Brooks left no question about where his political allegiances lie, spending the bulk of his 40-plus-minute speech echoing Trump’s baseless assertions that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him and claiming that the U.S. was besieged from within by “socialist” forces in the Democratic Party.
He was joined at his campaign announcement by Stephen Miller, the former Trump adviser and architect of some of the administration’s hard-line immigration policies, who cast Brooks as Trump’s most loyal ally in the House and a disciple of his so-called America First agenda.
“For the last five years, I’ve been senior adviser to President Donald Trump and I can tell you that nobody over the last four years has had President Trump’s back more than Mo Brooks,” Miller said as he announced his endorsement of the Alabama congressman. “Your vote for Mo Brooks will allow him to carry on the America First agenda.”
Greitens, who resigned as governor amid scandal nearly three years ago, is also hoping to ride Trump’s coattails in the Missouri Senate race. He announced his campaign during an appearance on Fox News on Monday, during which he portrayed himself as a bulwark against the leadership of President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I think that now the people of Missouri need a fighter in the United States Senate,” Greitens said. “They need somebody who’s going to go, as I will, as I’m committed to do, to defending President Trump’s America First policies and also to protecting the people of Missouri from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s radical leftist agenda.”
Trump has reemerged on the political scene in recent weeks as he seeks to ensure that the party he dominated over the past four years remains firmly in his corner. He has vowed political revenge on Republicans whom he sees as insufficiently loyal and is eyeing the 2022 midterms as an opportunity to install loyalists in Congress and oust those who have crossed him.
While some Republicans have privately — and in some cases publicly — called for the GOP to abandon, or at least moderate, Trump’s vision for the party, operatives and candidates are acutely aware of his outsize popularity among the GOP’s most conservative voters and see his endorsement as their ticket to victory.
The looming fights for Trump’s endorsement raise the possibility of a bitter and bruising primary season for Republicans, a less-than-ideal prospect for the party as it looks to recapture control of both the Senate and the House next year.
Republicans need to gain only one seat in the Senate and five in the House next year to regain majorities in both chambers. But they are also defending more seats in the Senate than Democrats are, giving them fewer pickup opportunities.
There are similar fights for Trump’s support cropping up in states like Ohio, where former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken are vying for Trump’s support in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
Trump has also spoken in recent weeks to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is weighing whether to seek a third term next year. One Republican source said that Trump wants Johnson to run for reelection, seeing him as his best hope for keeping at least one of Wisconsin’s Senate seats in friendly hands.
Trump has publicly thrown his support behind other GOP Senate incumbents seeking reelection next year, including Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
But there are still questions about the former president’s involvement in other states where Republicans are hoping to hold on to Senate seats.
Trump has vowed to campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who was one of seven GOP senators to vote to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial last month. And Republicans are watching closely to see whether Trump goes after Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) for criticizing his efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.
Trump has also publicly called on former NFL star Herschel Walker, a longtime friend of the former president’s, to mount a potential bid against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and has made clear that he plans to back a primary challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) after Kemp refused to use nonexistent emergency powers to overturn Trump’s loss in the state.
To be sure, there are competing views among those in Trump World of whom the former president should back in the midterms.
Trump allies are at odds over the best choice to replace Portman in Ohio. While the current fight for former president’s backing is unfolding between Timken and Mandel, more Trump loyalists are waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, some in Trump’s orbit have sought to boost Greitens’s Senate ambitions in Missouri, including Andrew Giuliani, a former White House aide and the son of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
But some former Trump aides and advisers have bristled at the notion of supporting Greitens’s candidacy, believing that he could pose a threat to the GOP’s standing in a race that Republicans currently see as a shoe-in.
Greitens resigned as governor less than a year and a half into his first term as he faced mounting scandals and potential impeachment by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.
“It’s a joke. Everyone thinks Trump supporters will vote for anyone the president tells them to,” one former Trump campaign aide said. “There’s still a line.”
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