By Jill Colvin, The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Associated Press) – Republicans hoping to get out of this year’s crowded primaries have piled on agents with ties to former President Donald Trump, betting that those ties will give them a chance to garner crucial endorsements that will help them win.
But with Trump entering some of the most competitive primaries, the strategy has proven to be a failure.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the two states that will begin an even crazier phase of the midterm campaign next month, the former president has bypassed candidates who have named some of his most prominent aides and allies. Instead he endorsed rivals including Mehmet Oz and JD Vance, who were relatively new to politics but who boasted high-powered profiles linked to television and books.
As Trump seeks to assert himself this election year as the undisputed kingmaker of the Republican Party, the endorsement is a reminder of the traits that are often most important to him. While he demands the loyalty of those around him, he rarely returns it as much. The former reality TV star-turned-president continues to be fascinated by the power of celebrities in politics.
“Donald Trump is obviously very mercurial about how he does things, right? So we might know now, with 20/20 hindsight, that this wasn’t the best bet,” said longtime GOP strategist Doug Hay of the Trump campaign. appointed. “But at the time, hiring made more sense,” he said.
The dynamic is particularly evident in Pennsylvania, where Trump Oz, a famous heart surgeon best known as the host of “The Dr. Oz Show” on daytime television, endorsed former hedge fund manager David McCormick.
McCormick has hired two of Trump’s most trusted aides: domestic policy adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, and communications consultant and longtime communications adviser Hope Hicks. (Miller dropped McCormick once Trump announced his support for Oz.) McCormick is also married to Trump’s former Deputy National Security Adviser, Dina Powell, and has had the support of other allies, including former Trump campaign adviser David Urban and press secretary Sarah Huckabee. Sanders, who is running for governor of Arkansas.
Kellyanne Conway, who ran the 2016 Trump campaign and served as White House counsel, also works for McCormick’s super team, Honor of Pennsylvania, which paid her company $15,000 last month.
Trump’s alliance with Oz sparked deep frustration among some members of his team who signed with McCormick and believed that the former president, at worst, would remain neutral in the primaries. But Oz has been involved in a long-term relationship with Trump, having known him for years and similarly rose to fame through a TV show. In announcing his endorsement, Trump noted that Oz “lived with us across the screen.”
“He’s a huge hit on TV, and it’s kind of like the final poll,” Trump told his Teletownhall supporters last week. Noting that Oz had the support of Fox News host Sean Hannity, he emphasized that Oz, who also had the support of former first lady Melania Trump, was simply in the best position to win the general election this fall.
Trump made similar reasoning in Ohio, ultimately choosing to support Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist who has become a staple of Fox News and conservative podcasts. He impressed Trump with his performance in the last Republican debate.
At a rally Saturday night, Trump said he had studied the race “very closely” and “liked a lot of the other candidates.” But he said, “We have to choose the one who will win.”
For now, the strength of Trump’s endorsement is unclear. His support opens his chosen candidates to an avalanche of money and interest, sometimes even appearing with the former president at one of his signature rallies. In Ohio, he may have helped lift Vance ahead of the May 3 primary. A Fox News poll on Tuesday showed Vance slightly ahead of rivals Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons, having been behind them in March.
Polls conducted in Pennsylvania in late March and early April indicated Oz was running a tight race, although there have been few recent polls to find out if Trump’s endorsement has made a difference.
But in Georgia, another state where Trump has invested heavily, his pick for governor, David Perdue, is lagging in polls and fundraising. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll on Tuesday showed incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp leading Purdue by 53% to 27% among likely voters. This just barely puts Kemp above the 50% threshold he would need to avoid runoff.
Any major loss could erode Trump’s image as the party’s most powerful force as he weighs running for president in 2024.
But such concerns do little to quell efforts among Republicans to win over Trump. For example, Vance and his opponents in Ohio spent months traveling to Mar-a-Lago, to imitate his style, and to display advertisements that painted each other as insufficiently loyal. They also called in a clique of Trump aides to assist in their efforts.
Former Ohio Republican President Gene Timken invested heavily, hiring Conway as well as two longtime Trump allies, Corey Lewandowski and Dave Busy. Lewandowski was hired despite being accused of unwanted sexual advances toward a GOP benefactor, briefly excluding him from the Trump circle.
Records show Timken paid Lewandowski $20,000 in March and also paid thousands to another Trump ally, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik. When Trump was president, he pardoned Kerik, who pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud and other charges that put him behind bars for three years.
The appointment of Lewandowski and Kerik briefly became an issue in the campaign when Timken was pressed over the decision during a debate.
Meanwhile, investment banker Mike Gibbons, who has portrayed himself as a Trump-style businessman, has also tapped into the Trump network, hiring the company run by Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Bill Stebbin, which paid out $20,000 earlier this year. the month.
Mandel, a former Ohio treasurer who aggressively embraced Trump’s shock tactics, was campaigning with Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump pardoned him after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.
While Vance has brought some into Trump’s orbit and secured the support of Trump-allied Peter Thiel, he also has the support of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, along with Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr.
At an event last week in Ohio, Trump Jr. referred to those working for rival candidates.
Trump person, speaking really positively about someone who is opposed by JD. Yes, because they get paid $20,000 a month to do that. This is their job. “It doesn’t mean they really believe it,” he said sarcastically.
Trump endorsed more than 100 candidates for office up and down the ballot. Allies say it’s driven by a long list of factors – sometimes outbursts, sometimes a personal relationship or even a charismatic TV appearance. After leaving the White House, he was eager to support those who offered to challenge the Republican incumbents who voted to impeach him, as well as those who echoed his electoral lies.
Trump has, at times, expressed frustration with his former aides who profited from perceptions that they could sell his endorsement, and made clear that those who pressure him need to reveal their clients, according to a person familiar with his recent comments who requested anonymity for discussion. .
But allies say anyone who thought they could buy Trump’s endorsement was fundamentally wrong.
“You hire advisors to guide you, to guide you on how to get Trump endorsement,” said Brian Lanza, a former Trump adviser who helped launch the pro-Vance Super PAC but is no longer participating in any of the contests. “They help explain Trump, how he processes information, what he’s looking for, what he’s looking for in candidates.”
However, Lanza said, these employees do not guarantee Trump’s interest.
While there are advantages to hiring Trump brokers, Lanza said, “I wouldn’t hire two. I would definitely hire one.”
Associated Press national policy writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.