President Donald Trump is taking concrete steps towards making good on his threat to back primary challenges against Republicans perceived as insufficiently loyal – a sign he may be willing to devote considerable resources to an effort to remake the GOP in his image even after his presidency.
Trump has directed advisers to keep tabs on several Republicans, including tracking public statements the way they would with Democrats for later use in ads and opposition research – a move first reported by Politico and confirmed to Forbes by a senior Trump campaign official.
The focus is on three Republicans: Senate GOP No. 2 John Thune, who has attempted to quell an effort to challenge the Electoral College vote; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who resisted Trump’s calls to overturn Biden’s win in his state; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who said in June she was “struggling” with whether to vote for Trump.
Other Republicans that could be under Trump’s crosshairs are Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who stoked Trump’s ire by acknowledging Biden as president-elect, and Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has stood by Kemp’s decision to certify Biden’s win in Georgia – though Trump’s team has not made a firm decision on going after any Republicans.
Trump has brought in enormous cash sums by baselessly claiming the election was stolen from him through voter fraud – raking in over $200 million in the three weeks since election day, more than $60 million of which has reportedly gone to his new political action committee, Save America Fund, which he can use to bankroll candidates.
A senior Trump adviser told Politico that Trump has “the biggest social media influence and the biggest political war chest in the country” and is “not going to be afraid to use it in 2022 to elect pro-Trump Republicans — even if that means wading into primaries.”
Forbes has reached out to the Save America Fund for comment.
Trump allies are even considering launching a new PAC dedicated to backing pro-Trump Republicans in primaries. These may include Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who Trump publicly urged to run against Kemp, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has hinted at a run against Murkowski. South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem, another staunch Trump ally, ruled out a bid against Thune, calling him “a friend of mine” and pledging to run for reelection in 2022.
Trump has grown increasingly alienated from Congress in recent weeks as more GOP lawmakers – especially in the Senate – have broken with his refusal to concede and acknowledged Biden as president elect. Many more are likely to vote to override his veto of an annual defense bill passed by wide margins in both chambers, while a number of GOP senators have voiced dismay over his indication he may reject a bipartisan stimulus bill.
Trump said: “I saved at least 8 Republican Senators, including Mitch, from losing in the last Rigged (for President) Election,” Trump tweeted Thursday, despite the fact that he ran behind most vulnerable Republican incumbents. “Now they (almost all) sit back and watch me fight against a crooked and vicious foe, the Radical Left Democrats. I will NEVER FORGET!”
$5 million in ad campaign has been launched by the Trump campaign in several states on Wednesday, including Georgia and Arizona, according to Politico and the New York Times. The ads reportedly urge GOP officials to probe the president’s voter fraud claims, a particular sore spot for Kemp and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who ignored those claims and certified Biden’s win.
An effort mounted by Trump and GOP House members to challenge the Electoral College may serve as a critical litmus test for Republicans. If Trump is able to recruit a senator – many of whom have hinted at objecting – it will force Republicans to vote on Trump’s claim the election was rigged against him. Because the House is controlled by Democrats, the effort will undoubtedly fail to overturn the election, but the vote can be used as a concrete marker of Republican lawmakers’ perceived loyalty to the president – or lack thereof.