Trump's top priority in handing out endorsements is personal. Who's for him and who will help him against his enemies? (Also, who will pay him the most for an endorsement, a situation exemplified by billionaire Peter Thiel, who has a slate of very mediocre candidates he is offering Trump big bucks to endorse) After that, it's mostly about being seen as someone who wins the prognostication game. He was really embarrassed when Mark Meadows and his yenta real estate agent wife picked a friend and fellow real estate agent, Lynda Bennett, to succeed him in Congress and persuaded Trump to give her one of his laughable one-size-fits-all endorsements. Bennett came in first in the primary but was forced into a primary by a then-unknown young Hitler-worshipping Nazi, Madison Cawthorn, who wound up beating her decisively, 65.8% to 34.2%, despite her Trump nomination.
Yesterday, Tara Palmeri reported that Trump is now considering dual endorsements in several races (including the ones Thiel's second rate candidates are in) because he has become "increasingly suspicious of his advisers who are pushing competing candidates. The GOP kingmaker-in-chief has grown so distrustful of all the advice he’s getting from various aides-- and so wary of being lured into picking the wrong horse-- that he’s floated an idea that would essentially dilute his endorsement. 'He feels like he's being penned in,' said a person close to the former president, explaining that Trump’s logic is that dual endorsements would mean, 'I get two chances to win.' [again, all about himself]. Another source of Trump's endorsement apprehension: He isn’t clear about which advisers have significant personal or financial ties to the candidates they’re bending his ear about."
The ultimate projectionist, Trump is "suspicious of the recommendations that people give him when he knows they’re being paid,' an adviser to the former president added. 'He’s been asking who is paying who.'" The people around him are often as mercenary as he is. And he wants to make sure that if money is changing hands for his endorsement, that money is going into his pockets, not his cronies' pockets.
A few examples of the conflicting advice he’s getting in high-profile races:
• In the Missouri Senate race, Pam Bondi, who heads Trump’s super PAC, has advocated for her longtime friend, state A.G. Eric Schmitt. But Kellanne Conway is advising Rep. Billy Long's campaign, and Kimberley Guilfoyle serves as national chair of former Gov. Eric Greitens' campaign.
• In Ohio, tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been lobbying Trump to pick J.D. Vance for Senate, while Conway works for Bernie Moreno's campaign. Neither candidate is a clear frontrunner. [MAGA favorite Josh Mandel is.]
• In the Pennsylvania Senate race, former White House aide Dina Powell is pushing Trump to endorse her husband, hedge fund magnate David McCormick. But Sean Hannity is urging him to back celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.
• In Arizona Thiel and Trump’s top political aide Susie Wiles have been pushing Blake Masters in the GOP Senate primary. Wiles works for Masters’ super PAC. But former Trump ambassador Ric Grenell has endorsed Jim Lamon.
Reump was already getting gun-shy about endorsements after feeling burned by several of his early nods. The biggest bust was Sean Parnell in the Pennsylvania race, whom Trump backed at the urging of Donald Trump Jr, only to see the candidate drop out amid scandal. Trump is also starting to have regrets about his June endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) for Senate. Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows pressed for Budd, but he’s now struggling in the polls.
Then there's Mo Brooks (R-AL), whom Trump endorsed in April at the urging of Stephen Miller. Brooks has not only lost ground in that state’s Senate contest, he also angered Trump when he said at an August rally that people need to move past Trump’s 2020 loss and focus on 2024. Three people close to Trump said that he’s so furious with Brooks that he’s weighed rescinding his endorsement.
Another person close to the former president said he does not expect that Trump will ultimately endorse two candidates in the same race. More likely is that he will shower praise on multiple candidates or offer them some other form of acknowledgement, such as granting each a visit to Mar-a-Lago to pose for a picture with him.
While Trump could choose to sit out some Senate races, some in his inner circle worry that not endorsing at all would cede power to his nemesis, Mitch McConnell. The Republican Senate leader and Trump have not always seen eye to eye on which candidates offer the party the best hope of winning competitive Senate races.
Aaron Blake's Washington Post column yesterday also used the kingmaker metaphor, noting that it is on the line as Trump's endorses "struggle." Blake began by reminding his readers that "Among the many things Donald Trump is prone to hyping and often vastly overselling, his endorsement record is near the top of the list. The events of the next several months will severely test his ability to sell that record, as his 2022 endorsements are in many cases struggling to deliver an early return on his investment-- and at a crucial time when it comes to Trump’s campaign to retain his hold on the GOP." Blake wrote that Trump wants to avoid "what he fears most: losing. There’s a distinct chance, based upon his current endorsements and early polling, that he could be in for a fair amount of it."
Aside from having picked MAGA candidates in Alabama and North Carolina that are losing to more mainstream conservatives, Trump's crackpot candidates in Maryland (Dan Cox), Alaska (Kelly Tshibaka) Idaho (Janice McGeachin) and Nebraska (unqualified insurrectionist Charles Herbster).
"Trump," he wrote, "has put his kingmaker reputation very much on the line in a series of primaries as he seeks to make sure the party remains in his image; he has often backed those who went further than most other Republicans in echoing his false claims about voter fraud. Doing so, though, often involves endorsing politicians who actually believe that stuff, which in many cases means they come from the political fringe. And how those candidates actually perform in the coming months is very much an open question."
Presumably, slime ball Wall Street hedge fund billionaire David McCormick paid for this smear against Mehmet Oz that has been running in Pennsylvania this week:
McCormick is the ultimate candidate of the billionaire class. "[H]e offers the sort of Republicanism-- pro-business, low-taxes, but wary of former President Donald Trump’s hold over the party-- that tends to appeal to many finance executives. Wall Street billionaires are gathering for a mega-fundraiser in the Palm Beach mansion of Paul Tudor Jones and hosted by a bevy of right-wing oligarchs princes of greed and selfishness like Gary Cohn, Stephen Schwarzman (Wall Street’s biggest campaign donor in 2020), Ken Griffin (best known for his 1999 statement that the superrich have too little influence in politics), Stanley Druckenmiller, Bob Steel and Bill Ford.
NBC News reported this morning that McCormick, who lives in Connecticut, not Pennsylvania, has "a history of mild if inconvenient criticisms" of Señor Trumpanzee. Oz doesn't live in Pennsylvania either; he's from Turkey but mostly lives in New Jersey. "Worried about backing a losing candidate, Trump is apt to withhold another endorsement until he has a clearer idea of who’s most likely to win."
As of now, Trump is not convinced that McCormick is the right Republican and has voiced misgivings about his ability to make inroads with Pennsylvania’s blue-collar voters, said one person who recently discussed the race with the former president. Oz, meanwhile, has made frequent appearances on Fox News. And Fox News’s Hannity has touted Oz’s candidacy in conversations with Trump, according to two people close to the former president. A spokesperson for Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump is intrigued by Oz’s “national star power” and sees him as the better bet at this stage of the race, said the person who recently discussed the race with him.
But that hasn’t been enough to earn the endorsement. A source close to McCormick’s campaign who also has ties to Trumpworld said that Trump had learned of Oz’s single-vote, last-place finish in a recent GOP straw poll and was surprised by the poor performance.
Inside the McCormick campaign, advisers don’t believe Trump will endorse anyone until he has a clearer picture of who is favored.
The former president has been talking to allies and Republican strategists, sounding them out on the strengths and vulnerabilities of the different candidates. With Trump’s backing, Parnell had been the early front-runner but exited the race late last year after losing a custody battle involving his three children. Were Trump to rush into another endorsement only to see it backfire, he’d risk undercutting his status as a GOP kingmaker.
...The Republican contest is quickly getting expensive. Oz, who entered a week after Parnell bailed, has already spent $3.9 million on advertising, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. McCormick is quickly catching up, with $3.2 million spent on ads through Friday. Another GOP hopeful, Carla Sands-- an ambassador to Denmark during the Trump administration who emphasizes her own ties to his presidency-- has spent $1.8 million. Also running in the primary are real estate developer Jeff Bartos, conservative commentator Kathy Barnette and Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto.
Bartos, who has run on a hyperlocal strategy and is familiar to grassroots activists from his 2018 run for lieutenant governor, finished first in the recent straw poll.
One potential equalizer as they all compete for Trump’s affection is that none of the major candidates have made Trump’s debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him central to their campaigns. Parnell had called for a “forensic audit” of the results in Pennsylvania, where Trump narrowly lost to President Joe Biden.
“We won the state,” Trump falsely asserted in a welcome video that played before a debate last week for GOP Senate candidates in Lawrence County. “It's something that I contest. I'll continue to contest it.”
“Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate,” Trump added, “and we can't let that ever, ever happen again. They have to get tougher and smarter.”
The election issue barely came up during the debate, which McCormick, Oz and Sands skipped.
Pressed during an interview last week with NBC Philadelphia, McCormick said he believes there were “numerous irregularities” in Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results but that “President Biden is the president, and we need to move forward.” He dodged follow-up questions about whether he believed the outcome was fair.
Beyond acknowledging that Biden is the president, McCormick also has said he believes Trump bears some responsibility for the 2021 attack on the Capitol led by pro-Trump rioters trying to block certification of Biden’s victory.
Such remarks could antagonize Trump and his MAGA base, putting any endorsement in jeopardy. McCormick’s hedge fund experience, which involved Chinese investments that he has spent the early days of his candidacy distancing himself from, also cuts against Trump-style economic nationalism and populism.
But McCormick has wheeled out a number of high-level endorsements from Trump’s political network. His wife, Dina Powell, who served as a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, has been a visible part of the campaign. Former Trump campaign and White House aides Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller are among McCormick’s advisers. Parnell endorsed him the day he entered the race. Former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now a candidate for governor in Arkansas, is backing him, too.
None of this swayed Trump to quickly endorse McCormick. Trump’s view of the McCormick campaign, said the person who recently discussed the race with him, is, “I don’t care how many people they hire who they think are my friends.”
A big enough check from McCormick allies, on the other hand, would probably do the trick as long as McCormick looks even vaguely plausible.