Campaign

Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear

Former President Trump and his allies are expanding their political activities across the map, asserting their presence within the Republican Party as the 2022 midterm cycle kicks into high gear.

Trump himself is issuing endorsements at a more rapid clip than earlier this year and is planning to barnstorm Georgia and Iowa in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, his allies are dropping millions of dollars to buoy his supported candidates in marquee races, and his affiliated consultants are airdropping into key races to boost backers and knock off incumbents viewed as disloyal.

The flurry of activity has taken place in the days precipitating and following Labor Day, the unofficial kickoff of the midterm cycle, indicating Trump World is ready to insert itself as races up and down the ballot begin to escalate.

"Expect the unexpected with Donald Trump, and I say that as a positive," said one operative in the former president's orbit.

"With that said, I do think you're going to see him on the campaign trail pretty aggressively. I suspect he'll probably get involved in a few other races before the end of the cycle is said and over, and I think he's going to do what he can to get his people across the finish line, particularly in the races that he really cares about."

Trump began issuing endorsements earlier in the spring and summer but has begun backing candidates at a faster pace in recent weeks.

Many of the endorsed candidates have been typical conservatives running against Democrats. But, in a sign of how Trump plans to throw his weight around, many have also been for Republicans who are running against incumbent GOP detractors or who have demonstrated fealty to him and his causes.

Among the nearly 40 candidates Trump has backed are challengers to a handful of House GOP incumbents and one sitting senator, each of whom supported his impeachment earlier this year following the Jan. 6 insurrection.

He has also endorsed Republicans running for secretary of state in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, three states where he pushed false claims that election fraud robbed him in the 2020 race. Included in that crop is Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who attended the riot on Jan. 6.

Beyond that, Trump is hitting the campaign trail in Georgia, a swing state hosting competitive Senate and gubernatorial races next year, and Iowa, which hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primary caucuses.

"The idea that there was going to be a whole election cycle that Donald Trump wasn't going to try to put himself at the center of, it just wasn't a reasonable expectation," said GOP strategist Scott Jennings. "I think the operating principle for him is, 'I'm going to be at the center of this.' And what he's doing right now is trying to be the head of the Republican Party."

Trump's allies are fanning out across the country to further his cause as well.

Consultants allied with Trump are staffing campaigns against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two of his biggest intraparty critics. And outside groups like the anti-tax Club for Growth are providing air cover in various races, including releasing a blistering ad against former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who is running against a Trump-backed candidate for an open Senate seat.

Trump's heightened involvement toward the end of summer and start of fall should come as no surprise.

Off-year Labor Days are typically viewed as the start of the midterm cycle, and this year is no different. Candidates in recent weeks have announced campaigns in marquee races, including Georgia's Senate race and Michigan's gubernatorial race.

"The old saying is objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. And I think it's the same for the 2022 cycle. It's here. I mean, we're in the next election cycle mode, so I'm not surprised to see the president making himself more visible and more active and conducting more political activities as we get closer and closer," said GOP strategist Chip Lake.

Already the former president's involvement has shaken up races. In Wyoming, his endorsement for one primary challenger to Cheney has started to clear the field of other would-be GOP replacements. And in Ohio, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump earlier this year, decided to retire rather than face a Trump-backed primary challenger.

Trump's influence has also impacted marquee Senate races, including in Pennsylvania. After endorsing veteran Sean Parnell in the GOP primary, businessman Jeff Bartos dumped opposition research against him earlier this month revealing protective orders sought by Parnell's estranged wife.

Parnell's allies quickly dismissed the dump, noting a judge did not extend the temporary orders, and called on Bartos to drop out.

Trump's expansive involvement could be a boon for Republicans who are hoping that disgruntlement with the Biden administration juices their turnout enough to flip the House and Senate next year. And, allies say, no politician is as effective at boosting turnout as Trump.

"He is the animating figure for our base, and he will remain so until he chooses not to engage in politics any longer," one GOP strategist said.

However, other Republicans say that as animating as Trump may be for Republican voters, his sprawling presence could also energize Democrats in 2022 and alienate suburban voters who made the difference in President Biden's 2020 win. And while Republicans are still anticipated to retake the House, an energized Democratic base could curtail the GOP's gains.

"He's giving the Democrats what they need to stanch the bleeding in the midterm, which is someone to fear and someone to focus against. If Trump wasn't around, I'd say the Republicans could easily head for a 40-seat pickup. But with Trump around and as a focus for Democratic turnout, they might be able to limit that to 20 seats," said a second Republican strategist, who also requested anonymity.

Trump's involvement in the midterms is also likely a building block to a potential White House run in 2024. The former president has declined to specifically say if he's running, but allies say they expect a bid.

Heavy involvement in the midterms could be a potent way of keeping his name in the headlines, particularly after being kicked off Facebook and Twitter, and ensures that he remains the gatekeeper to Republicans' electoral success.

"He's engaged, and if we win the Congress back, then he's gonna be able to bask in that and lay claim to it," Jennings said.

Beyond that, the more Trump keeps himself in the headlines, the less space other potential 2024 contenders have to maneuver.

"That helps him clear the field for the Republican nomination in 2024 if he wants it because he's just taking all the oxygen out of the room. I mean, nobody is talking about anybody else on the Republican side because Trump dominates it so much," the second anonymous GOP strategist said.

Trump's heightened involvement has sparked speculation of pushback from anti-Trump moderates who may view the midterms - when Trump is out of power and off the ballot - as a chance to reassert themselves.

However, many in the GOP maintain that Trump remains the de facto head of the Republican Party and that centrist grumbling will fail to knock Trump off the GOP throne.

"I think you've got the residual of the old GOP, the Bush Republican Party, not appreciating that they've been displaced by Trump," said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. "That's going to be a big shift and painful for a lot of the older Republican officeholders who have figured out how to get along and go along in Washington. And we'll see how it plays out this cycle and the next cycle."

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