As Trump prepares to resume rallies, Republicans fear 'revenge tour'
Donald Trump will be back on stage this month with one mission at the top of his agenda -- seeking revenge against Republican incumbents who turned on him by backing their challengers in 2022 primaries.
That worries some GOP leaders. As the former president prepares to resume his trademark rallies, they fear another round of grievances about the 2020 election results and championing untested candidates over incumbents could hurt the party more than it helps in next year’s midterm elections.
Trump has been banned from social media for encouraging supporters who broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He has issued statements on news topics that have generated little coverage. This week, he abandoned a blog he had started less than a month ago that had attracted relatively few readers.
He is scheduled to be the keynote speaker on Saturday at the North Carolina Republican Party’s convention, which will be live-streamed.
The schedule for the rallies hasn’t been released but they will likely begin this month or next, according to senior adviser Jason Miller. One of the first will be in Ohio for Max Miller, a former White House aide who’s challenging Republican Anthony Gonzalez, one of 10 House incumbents who voted to impeach Trump. The two Millers are no related.
Jason Miller said there are also plans for an event in Alabama, where Trump has endorsed Representative Mo Brooks in his campaign to replace retiring Senator Richard Shelby. Brooks helped lead the Jan. 6 challenge to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.
Trump is also planning rallies in Florida and Georgia, where he is backing Representative Jody Hice against Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, though those events might not be for specific candidates, Miller said. The unusual event of a former U.S. president getting involved in a race for a state bureaucratic post follows Raffensperger’s high-profile opposition to Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden in Georgia.
Matt Schlapp, head of the Conservative Political Action Conference, announced on Twitter that Trump would be speaking to CPAC’s Texas meeting in July.
Trump’s campaign against Republican incumbents could end with a slate of candidates who are weaker than an entrenched incumbent in a general-election matchup with a Democrat in the fall, diverting resources from other competitive races in 2022. Republicans need to flip only one seat in the Senate and five in the House to regain control and stymie Biden’s agenda for the remainder of his term.
It’s unclear whether the rallies will draw the crowds that showed up when Trump was a presidential candidate or in the White House. But he remains the de facto head of the Republican Party and demands fealty from candidates and officeholders.
“I’m tickled to death” Trump will be holding rallies, said Fred Beardsley, chairman of the Oswego County Republican Committee in upstate New York.
Beardsley said he views Trump hitting the stump is good thing for the party, even if it hurts some GOP congressional candidates in 2022, including local Representative John Katko, who also voted to impeach the former president.
Having Trump front and center would keep voters focused on 2020 and relitigating the election results at a time when prominent Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell want to focus the midterm messaging on Biden’s economic plans and electing a Republican-controlled Congress that could stop them.
McConnell opposed plans for a bipartisan commission to examine the Jan. 6 riot because, he said, it would distract from the 2022 midterm message and focus too much on the past.
“Politics is about the future, and as long as Trump looks forward and is focused on helping nominate candidates that can win in the fall, it’s a good use of time and it’s good for the party,” said Scott Reed, the former chief political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “If it just becomes a forum for re-litigating the past loss, it’ll have a negative impact on the party.”
Trump’s fixation on settling scores doesn’t fit with the GOP’s aim to be unified, said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director and Trump critic.
“What Donald Trump is saying is that he is not going to allow Republicans to do anything but look back, and that is something that will gum up the works potentially for 2022,” Heye said.
Miller countered by noting that the former president is the party’s most popular figure, and cited the 74 million votes he received for re-election.
“Everybody wants his endorsement, and he’s committed to helping elect America First conservatives who can help Republicans take back the House and Senate in 2022,” Miller said.
Republicans must channel Trump’s energies into revving up the GOP base and uniting Republicans behind candidates the entire party supports, said Matt Gorman, a GOP strategist who used to be communications director for the National Republican Campaign Committee, the House GOP campaign arm.
“If we talk about the future and we talk about Joe Biden, we will win,” Gorman said. “It’s when we re-litigate the past and issues that voters aren’t as concerned about that we get ourselves into trouble.”
If his past rallies are any indication, Trump could draw much of the attention to himself and away from 2022 candidates as his unscripted speeches meander through a series of topics that rarely exhibit message discipline.
“Republicans absolutely should be concerned that the Trump rallies will be problematic, depending on the outcome,” said Dan Eberhart, a longtime GOP donor. “I just worry that attacking other Republicans at this point in the cycle just has no benefit.”
Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the House Republicans that Trump has targeted for their impeachment vote, said he hopes the rallies expose the former president’s weaknesses.
“I do think that’s going to be fatiguing with people, and eventually folks besides the most hardcore are going to say, ‘OK, it’s time to move on,’” Kinzinger said in a Politico interview streamed online last week. “My hope is that actually in those rallies, people realize this is starting to get nuts.”