As Midterms and 2024 Loom, Trump Political Operation Revs Up

  • In Politics
  • 2022-01-05 12:53:36Z
  • By The New York Times

Donald Trump and his allies are scheduling events and raising money for initiatives intended to make the former president a central player in the midterm elections, and possibly to set the stage for another run for the White House.

He and groups allied with him are planning policy summits, more rallies and an elaborate forum next month at his Mar-a-Lago resort for candidates he has endorsed and donors who give as much as $125,000 per person to a pro-Trump super PAC.

The efforts seem intended to reinforce the former president's grip on the Republican Party and its donors amid questions about whether Trump will seek the party's nomination again or settle into a role as a kingmaker.

Taken together, the pro-Trump groups form a sort of shadow political party that could help start another presidential campaign and, if that were successful, shape his administration. They include Trump's own PACs, which amassed more than $100 million by last summer, employ an overlapping roster of former top officials from his administration and have signaled that they intend to embrace policies and candidates supported by Trump.

The groups have also helped reinforce his properties as a center of Republican power, holding events at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, and at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump has welcomed to the clubs a stream of Republicans seeking his political blessing, issuing nearly 100 endorsements to aligned candidates, including challengers to GOP incumbents who voted for Trump's impeachment or supported the certification of his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

The candidate forum at Mar-a-Lago is being planned for Feb. 23 by a super PAC run by some of Trump's closest allies called Make America Great Again, Again! Inc., according to an email to donors from Roy W. Bailey, a Texas businessman and Republican fundraiser.

"There will be an all-day candidate forum with back-to-back speeches from the endorsed candidates and familiar faces in the Trump orbit," wrote Bailey, who was a leading fundraiser for Trump's campaigns and inaugural committee, then registered to lobby his administration. "We want those who attend to leave thinking that it was the best political event they have ever attended."

Donors who raise $375,000 will be invited to a private dinner with Trump.

Bailey noted that the PAC's national finance director was Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., and that its board included Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who advised Trump during his first impeachment; Richard Grenell, who was Trump's ambassador to Germany and acting head of national intelligence; and Matthew G. Whitaker, who was acting attorney general.

The forum is for federal candidates endorsed by Trump. It is not clear how many of them intend to attend. But some, including Harriet Hageman, who is mounting a primary challenge against Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of Trump's harshest Republican critics, and Kelly Tshibaka, who is running in the primary against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have been asked to hold the date, according to a person familiar with the planning who was not authorized to discuss it.

Still, Trump's political activities have generated some grumbling within his circle of supporters.

One donor who had supported Trump's campaigns said he was leery about donating to Make America Great Again, Again! because of concerns that the money would be wasted. Citing events at the former president's properties as an example, the donor, who insisted on anonymity to avoid antagonizing Trump and his allies, said he declined invitations to the February candidate forum and to a $125,000-a-plate fundraising dinner with Trump held by the super PAC last month at Mar-a-Lago.

Other donors and party leaders worry about the damage that could be done by Trump's backing of primary challenges to Republicans who pushed back against his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Trump was impeached twice, including after his supporters stormed the Capitol seeking to disrupt the certification of Biden's victory. Since then, he has been banned from the social media accounts he had wielded so effectively to generate attention and punish enemies without spending any money.

While Trump has announced the formation of his own media company, including a new social network to reinsert himself into the conversation, it has yet to launch and its financing has come under scrutiny from securities regulators.

Trump's team also has continued fundraising voraciously online for various PACs that he directly controls, compiling a war chest of more than $100 million last summer, and his team has continued financing campaign-style rallies. He has plans for one in Arizona this month and more to follow, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Many of Trump's rallies in 2021 were paired with private donor round tables to raise money for his super PAC. He is planning more rallies in 2022 at locations chosen to help the candidates he has endorsed, according to people familiar with the plans.

Groups allied with him have stepped up their fundraising in recent months, indicating they intend to spend funds to promote his causes and endorsements.

A nonprofit group called America First Policy Institute, which was started last year to serve as a think tank for Trump world, has the look of a Trump administration in waiting. It raised more than $20 million last year and has 110 employees, including Bondi, Whitaker and a number of former Trump Cabinet members, such as David Bernhardt (who ran the Interior Department), Rick Perry (Energy Department) and Andrew Wheeler (Environmental Protection Agency).

The group held two events with Trump at his properties - a fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago in November, and an event at Bedminster in July with Bondi to promote a lawsuit filed by Trump against tech companies that barred or limited his use of their platforms - and it is planning twice-a-year policy summits around the country.

The next summit, planned for April in Atlanta, could feature Trump, according to the group's president, Brooke Rollins, who served as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump and says she remains in contact with Trump about her group's efforts.

She said her group's goal was to persuade Americans to support policies like those that Trump pursued as president, and "not about getting anyone reelected," although she said she hoped the group's efforts would shape the debates around the midterms and the 2024 presidential election.

"The metric of a successful policy organization is how much those policies are part of the debate," she said.

A linked nonprofit group called America First Works is promoting policies that comport with Trump's agenda. They include voting rules that make it "hard to cheat," according to a fact sheet that seems to echo Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which his allies have been relying on to reshape election laws in a manner that could favor Republicans.

But the raft of new groups has brought with it some of the drama and infighting that marked Trump's campaigns and presidency.

A previous iteration of the super PAC behind the Mar-a-Lago forum was replaced after one of its founders, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, was accused of sexual misconduct by a donor.

That super PAC, which reported $5.6 million in the bank in mid-August, was supplanted by the new PAC, according to a statement announcing the shift in October that said the assets of the old PAC would be transferred to the new one.

The statement called the new group "the ONLY Trump-approved super PAC."

© 2022 The New York Times Company


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