It sure looks like the old Donald Trump political magic is waning a bit — if it ever existed for anybody but himself in the first place.
The former president, in an exile of sorts after two impeachments and his attempted coup, has been angling his way back on the twin rails of American politics: Money and endorsements.
He’s like a modern-day Boss Tweed, the New York Times said last weekend: “Hoarding cash, doling out favors and seeking to crush rivals, the former president is dominating the GOP.”
Meh. Not so much out here in the West.
Campaign finance reports released last week show that Trump’s patented “Complete and Total Endorsement!” is actually doing surprisingly little to drive money and enthusiasm to some of his favored candidates.
Example: Congressional candidate Loren Culp, who was the Washington state GOP’s previous nominee for governor. Trump is aggrieved that the incumbent there, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, voted to impeach Trump after a mob stormed the Capitol and Trump did nothing for hours. So on Feb. 9, Trump dropped what was supposed to be a revenge bomb on Newhouse:
“Newhouse joined the Radical Left Democrats to vote for the Impeachment Hoax …” Trump said while endorsing Culp. “Unlike Dan Newhouse, who is absolutely terrible, Loren will never turn his back on Central Washington, or our Country.”
They appear to be turning their backs on Culp — his intake rate of campaign money actually slowed a bit post-endorsement, with only about $19,000 after Feb. 9, according to federal records of itemized contributions. This despite flying down to Mar-a-Lago Club in late February to kiss the ring at a “MAGApalooza” candidate forum.
The Culp campaign also spent more money than it brought in. Even worse: The long-shot Democratic candidate in the district, which is the state’s reddest, raised nearly three times as much as Culp this quarter.
If Trump reads that last sentence, look out. He’s been known to cancel endorsements when he feels he’s about to be embarrassed.
Trump’s pick down in southwest Washington’s 3rd District, Joe Kent, is doing far better. But even there, Trump’s influence seems a little tenuous.
A conservative GOP rival to Kent, Heidi St. John, had originally made a kind of tribal loyalty oath that she would drop out if she didn’t win Trump’s favor. She then refused to bend the knee and stayed in the race anyway. The news is that it hasn’t seemed to hurt her that much.
Her fundraising has accelerated, bringing in nearly half a million dollars since Trump backed Kent last fall. (He raised $760,000 in that six-month period). The real target in all this — incumbent Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, another “turncoat” Republican who voted to impeach Trump — raked in $1.1 million in that same stretch.
“There are a lot of people inside the Republican party who are quietly moving on from Trump,” suggests Alex Hays, a Republican campaign strategist inTacoma. “It’s not that our party doesn’t still love Trump, or love the idea of Trump. But he’s not in office. He’s not present every day. So I think they’re more laser-focused on the current moment than on the past.”
Then there’s Janice McGeachin, who has toted a Bible and a gun while campaigning for governor of Idaho. And Sarah Palin, who’s ba-aack, running for Congress in Alaska. These are two more of Trump’s endorsees out West.
McGeachin toadied up to Trump, calling his blessing “the most coveted endorsement in political history.” Getting it hasn’t boosted her though, as she trails the establishment governor, Brad Little, in fundraising by a 3-to-1 margin, and also in the polls.
It’s too soon to tell what Alaska thinks about Palin after all these years. Back in the day, she was Trump before Trump. Her race could be a bellwether on whether voters are still in a Trumpy kind of mood, or looking for something more … sane and restrained.
Republicans are almost certain to win every race mentioned above. The question is, what kind of Republican?
The catch here is that all these GOP candidates competing for Trump’s fickle gaze are simultaneously renting out Trump consultants and Trump properties. For example, Kent’s campaign paid Mar-a-Lago Club $16,370 for event-hosting and fundraising fees, as well as nearly $300,000 to a former Trump campaign worker’s company for consulting services.
Nationwide, dozens of GOP candidates, like “crabs in a bucket to be lifted out by him,” have paid nearly $1.3 million to Trump to hold events at Mar-a-Lago, the Times reported. Whether they rise or fall, he’s already made out like a bandit.
I continue to be amazed that grown politicians can’t see they are being played for marks by an obvious charlatan.
But it’s heartening to see glimmers of doubt, and quiet withholding of funds, from some volunteers and donors in the party down below.
Maybe there’s some hope for democracy yet.