Want to know how extreme former congressman Mark Walker is? He was endorsed by Mad Cawthorn in his bid for the open seat Senate nomination for North Carolina Republicans. Now he's fighting with ex-colleague Ted Budd, another primary candidate because on June 5 at the GOP convention Trump endorsed Budd, not Walker or ex-Governor Pat McCrory (the toilet guy). Walker has started a whispering campaign that Trump was tricked into the endorsement by another far right ex-congressman, Mark Meadows, implying that Trump is feeble-minded. Once Trump announced his endorsement of Budd, primary polling numbers shifted drastically in Budd's favor.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, the whispering campaign is turning into a shouting match. Walker told USA Today that Meadows had orchestrated the whole thing.
Walker accused Meadows of not telling Trump that Walker led a straw poll of Republican delegates earlier that day for the GOP 2022 Senate nomination. Walker said he drew support from 44% of the delegates while Budd came in second with 29%. Former Gov. Pat McCrory was third out of five announced candidates with 18%.
...“I wish President Trump would have known they withheld the information that I had won the straw poll among the grassroots conservatives that showed up in Greenville,” Walker said. “I wish he would have had that information, and I felt it did him a disservice to walk out there knowing that he was getting ready to endorse someone that over 70% of the room did not endorse.”
Some Republicans at the Fayetteville luncheon disagreed with Trump’s choice.
“How did President Trump get [the] North Carolina endorsement so wrong at the convention?” one asked Walker during a brief Q&A.
“That’s a good question. That's a good question,” Walker said. “How did President Trump get the endorsement so wrong at the convention?”
Walker connected Trump’s Budd pick to Walker’s endorsement of U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn to fill Meadow’s 11th District seat in the 2020 GOP primary instead of a friend of Meadow’s wife. In that primary, Trump endorsed Debbie Meadows’ friend, Lynda Bennett of Haywood County.
“When I became the only member of Congress to endorse Madison Cawthorn, that means I did not endorse Mark Meadows’s wife’s wife best friend, who they talked the president into endorsing,” Walker said.
“So it created some friction. I still believe I was right in endorsing Madison Cawthorn. I believe he was the best member in that race, but sometimes inside the political arena it creates a little friction.”
Cawthorn beat Bennett 65.8% to 34.2% in a runoff primary last summer.
Walker expressed confidence he will win despite Trump’s choice, and that he will get Trump’s backing ahead of the March 2022 primary vote, although he stopped short of saying he will wrest the endorsement from Budd.
“But you know what, we’re not giving up on that,” Walker said told the women’s club audience... “there's a chance that we could earn his support. I never said he's going to change anything… I think over time you're going to see us performing so strong among grassroots conservatives that I think people will take a look at this race,” he said.
...Prior to Trump’s June 5 announcement that he was endorsing Ted Budd, former governor McCrory was seen as the front-runner in the Republican Senate primary due to his high name recognition compared to the rest of the slate.
A survey published in April by Carolina Journal found McCrory had the support of 40% of likely Republican voters, to 10.5% picking Walker and 4.8% selecting Budd. The survey said 44% were undecided.
On Monday, Budd’s campaign announced it has a new survey that shows that Trump’s endorsement helps Budd tremendously-- if they know about it.
As first reported by Morning Consult, the Budd campaign’s survey found 80% of GOP voters were unaware Trump had endorsed Budd.
And when most did not know about the endorsement, Budd’s survey said 45% picked McCrory, 19% picked Budd and 13% picked Walker.
After being told that Trump endorsed Budd, the Budd campaign’s survey said 46% of the voters preferred Budd, 27% picked McCrory and 8% picked Walker.
North Carolina isn't going to be the only place where this kind of thing is going to play out. Yesterday, Alex Isenstadt reported that Team Trump is warning Republican candidates not to pretend Trump has endorsed them when he hasn't. Isenstadt began his piece with a little story from Alabama. "Lynda Blanchard," he wrote, "donated nearly $1 million to pro-Donald Trump political committees, served as his ambassador to Slovenia and launched her Alabama Senate campaign with a video spotlighting her Trump bumper sticker-adorned pickup truck. But the former president was annoyed after hearing from donors that Blanchard was hyping her connections to Trump and giving them the impression she had his backing. Trump, who was widely believed to be leaning toward Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a longtime ally who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the deadly Capitol riot, vented to his advisers that he barely knew Blanchard." Trump got even by endorsing Brooks, a neo-Nazi who McConnell has told his people will find it difficult to win and will force the GOP to spend millions of dollars in one of the reddest states in the country. McConnell is threatening to have the NRSC back another candidate in the primary.
“Lots of candidates pretend to have the support of President Trump. Most are full of shit. You will know when President Trump endorses someone,” said former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
The episodes illustrate the colliding pressures confronting the former president and the Republican office-seekers desperate for his support. While candidates are calculating that they need voters to see them as Trump-approved, the former president is protective of his political brand and recognizes that his much-coveted endorsement-- and the performance of the candidates who get it-- is one of his primary means of maintaining relevance.
The problem has gotten worse since Trump left the White House, advisers say. The former president’s team has long pushed back on candidates they accused of misrepresenting themselves as Trump-backed: Last year alone, the Trump campaign sent cease-and-desist letters to the likes of attorney general-turned-Alabama Senate candidate Jeff Sessions and even contenders for local office. But now, without a comprehensive state-by-state network of operatives and chairpersons that can patrol races, the former president’s political team has to work harder to keep candidates in line.
The most recent flare-up came last week, when a bogus flier popped up on the internet proclaiming that Trump had endorsed businessman Hirsh Singh in New Jersey's June 8 GOP gubernatorial primary. After Trump spokesman Jason Miller became aware of the posting-- which was designed to mimic Trump’s official endorsement statements-- he took to Twitter to declare that it was "FAKE" and say that Trump “has NOT endorsed in the race.”
Singh denied in an interview that he was behind the flier and accused one of his primary rivals of planting it to embarrass him. “I don’t play sneaky games like this,” said Singh, who ended up finishing a distant third.
Mike Testa, a state senator who co-chaired Trump’s reelection campaign in the state, said the posting had been damaging for Singh, raising questions of trustworthiness in the minds of voters at the last minute. Testa recalled running for office in 2019 and being careful not to state he had Trump’s support until the then-president said it explicitly.
...A few weeks earlier, Miller swatted down Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a prospective gubernatorial candidate [and full on, unapologetic fascist] who had asserted in a radio interview that Trump had “asked” him to run and that the ex-president had told him, “‘Doug, run and I’ll campaign for you.’”
Miller shot back that Trump “has not made any endorsement or commitments yet” in the contest.
Trump aides have grown aggravated by Mastriano, partly because of his willingness to reveal private conversations with Trump. Mastriano, who has loudly echoed the former president’s baseless assertions that there were irregularities in the 2020 election, has talked publicly on at least four occasions about his discussions with Trump regarding the gubernatorial race.
...Trump advisers say he’s relished being courted by candidates, which has kept him occupied during his post-presidential days at his Mar-a-Lago estate and Bedminster golf course. The former president has received hundreds of requests for endorsements, evidence that he retains full sway in the Republican Party, they say.
But they warn that being perceived as faking an endorsement is a mistake-- and could even sink a campaign.
“Until a candidate gets an official statement from President Trump, whether in writing, video or audio, they do not have the official endorsement,” said John McLaughlin, who was a pollster on Trump’s campaigns. “It’s dishonest. If proven, it could totally backfire.”
Trump lieutenants say they’ve tracked other incidents, such as a statement Texas Republican gubernatorial hopeful Don Huffines released last week calling himself the “Trump candidate.” It came just hours after the former president endorsed the incumbent, Gov. Greg Abbott.
Trump's endorsement is crucial in primaries but outside of the Deep South, a kiss of death in statewide races where independent and swing voters are necessary for general election victories.