Trump’s dominance in the GOP is in focus, worrying some party members

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Donald Trump secures his grip on the Republican Party less than three months before the midterm elections, with GOP primary voters heading to the polls in Wyoming to oust his most vocal GOP critic, dozens of nominees for office state and federal officials amplifying his false claims and belligerent rhetoric and many party figures echoing his evidenceless attacks on the FBI search of his home.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Trump’s fiercest Republican opponent in Congress, lost her primary Tuesday in a landslide to Harriet Hageman, whom the former president endorsed with the sole mission of unseating Cheney. The race attracted more voters than any Republican primary in Wyoming’s 132-year history – serving as a stark example of how Trump kept his grip on the party after losing the presidency in 2020.

Hageman’s victory marked the fourth and final primary defeat for a House Republican who voted to impeach Trump last year on charges of inciting a riot. Of the 10 who voted, only two now have the chance to keep their seats next year, both emerging from multi-party primaries with unusual rules. The other four chose not to run again.

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“Trump has absolute sway over the Republican electorate, and if he wants to be the Republican nominee in 2024, he will be,” said GOP strategist John Thomas. He said he helped organize a political action committee to back Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ possible presidential bid if Trump doesn’t run, but recently put those plans on hold.

Some Republican strategists have expressed concerns about Trump’s influence, worrying that he is elevating less eligible candidates in crucial races and that his polarizing midterm presence could complicate Republican attempts to regain control of Congress. based on concerns about inflation, crime and other issues. that have persisted under Democratic control of the federal government.

“Having amateur candidates who have never run for office before carrying the Republican Party banner in critical Senate races is a risky move,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who says Trump has helped raise untested candidates in pivotal states. “The list is quite long of Senate seats lost by weak Republican candidates, even in good Republican years.”

Although he has landed some campaign victories, Trump has considerable legal and political problems, with multiple federal and state investigations into his conduct related to the improper bringing of classified documents to his Florida beach estate, and its activities related to January 6, 2021, riot.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wyoming’s primary was among the last intraparty contests of the year — and Republicans aren’t worried about keeping that seat in a ruby-red state. These races took place against the backdrop of the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search – which found top secret documents and other classified information, according to a list not sealed by a judge – and its aftermath. Many Republicans followed Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the raid, alleging without evidence that it was a political attack, although some began to defend federal law enforcement more vocally. .

On Wednesday, former Vice President Mike Pence told a New Hampshire audience that the attacks on the FBI were unjustified and that “calls for defunding the FBI are just as wrong as calls for defunding the police.” But he also said he was “deeply disturbed” that a search warrant had been issued and called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to release more information about his justification.

“We definitely put the brakes on,” after the FBI raid, Thomas said, speaking of preparations to back a DeSantis bid in 2024. He said he believed Trump would be seeking re-election and that “at this point it would be essentially a fool”. commission for DeSantis to try to run. Mar-a-Lago’s research, he added, “turned Trump into a victim” and fueled the “us versus them psychology” that inflames Trump’s base.

DeSantis is up for re-election this year and has not ruled out a 2024 run. At a rally with GOP nominees in Arizona over the weekend, DeSantis rallied in Trump’s defense, asking a crowd: “How could you get to the point where you have people targeted according to whether they are for or against the current regime? He reiterated his comparisons to a “banana republic”.

Contributions to Trump’s political action committee topped $1 million at least two days after the Aug. 8 search of his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, according to two people familiar with the numbers.

When it comes to midterms, Trump’s influence in the party – which has been the subject of debate among Republicans since he left office under a torrent of criticism after a host of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to prevent President Biden‘s election victory from being certified — carries short-term risks for the GOP, some Republicans have said.

The overall tally of mentions of the 45th president has been mixed and includes a few last-minute forays once the races were actually decided. He’s helped elevate untested candidates in key Senate races that have struggled at times, like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have pointed to Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election and impose political sanctions on those who refused to participate in that effort or echo his false claims that he was tainted with fraud, saying that ‘they saw in him an existential threat to standards that must be stopped.

In a concession speech Tuesday night, Cheney warned of a perilous moment for American democracy and said she would “do whatever it takes to make sure Trump is never near the Oval Office again.” — noting that most of his party has only rallied behind him since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Anti-Trump conservatives have long discussed the possibility of Cheney running for president just to attack Trump or siphon off his votes, and on Wednesday Cheney told NBC’s “Today” that she would decide whether to run “within months coming”. Right after her first loss, she filed a case with the Federal Election Commission to establish a leadership PAC called “the big task.”

Across the political spectrum on Wednesday, many agreed that Wyoming’s unique result — the defeat by some 37 points of the daughter of a former vice president whose family dominated state politics — signaled something broader about the direction of the GOP.

“It is a clear indication that the American republic will only be preserved if principled Republicans, Democrats and independents put the country above the party and join with it in defending it,” said Evan McMullin, a independent candidate for the United States Senate in Utah, which local Democrats have endorsed as an anti-Trump candidate. “None of these factions has the votes to do it alone.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Hageman had won at least 113,025 votes to Cheney’s 49,316, according to the Associated Press. Two years earlier, just over 108,000 ballots had been cast for each candidate in the GOP primary.

Trump was determined to bring down Cheney, according to several advisers to the former president. He and his team vetted candidates, worked to try to clear the ground and spoke to Hageman regularly, according to advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. Trump and his team mapped out ways to ensure Cheney wouldn’t move forward — including pushing for changes to voting rules and lobbying state officials such as the Republican governor. Trump 2020 campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh handled communications for Hageman.

Their efforts helped spur a Republican attorney who in 2016 briefly worked to prevent Trump from winning his party’s presidential nomination. Cheney’s campaign has attempted to portray Hageman as an opportunist, even praising a billboard citing her past criticism of Trump when the former president came to the state for a rally.

The strategy didn’t work, as Republicans found that many conservative voters had embarked on a similar journey — skeptical of Trump as a candidate, then committed to his leadership of their movement.

“She tried to run the whole race against Trump, and she was dismissed in a historic and humiliating way because of it,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist who oversaw an outside group supporting Hageman.

Democrats have been watching the Republican Party’s internal warfare, hoping it could sway voters in their direction, but dismayed by the ongoing purge of Trump critics.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (DN.Y.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a recent interview that Republicans erred in attacking FBI research and failing to aggressively rein in members who called on the FBI itself to be defunded or abolished.

“All of us who were there on January 6 know what happens when you get the crowd going. People get hurt,” Maloney said.

Florida State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is running for a secure Republican seat in next week’s Florida primaries, said Wyoming’s race “has become a national referendum on the future of the GOP.” .

“There are other Liz Cheneys in the conference,” Sabatini added. “They’re just smarter and they shut up.”

John Wagner and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.

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