As mid-term and 2024 loom, Trump’s political operation gathers momentum

Former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach, Florida on June 26, 2020 (Saul Martinez / The New York Times)

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

He and groups allied with him are planning political summits, other rallies and an elaborate forum next month at his Mar-a-Lago compound for the candidates he has supported and donors who donate up to 125 $ 000 per person to a super pro-Trump PAC.

The efforts appear to be aimed at strengthening the former president’s grip on the Republican Party and its donors amid questions of whether Trump will seek the party’s nomination again or settle into a kingmaker role.

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Together, the pro-Trump groups form a sort of shadow political party that could help launch another presidential campaign and, if successful, shape his administration. They include Trump’s own PACs, which raised more than $ 100 million last summer, employ an overlapping list of former senior officials in his administration and have signaled that they intend to adopt policies. policies. Trump-backed politicians and candidates.

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

The Mar-a-Lago Candidates Forum is slated for February 23 by a super PAC led by some of Trump’s closest allies called Make America Great Again, Again! Inc., according to an email from donor Roy W. Bailey, a Texas businessman and Republican fundraiser.

“There will be an all-day candidates’ forum with back-to-back speeches from approved candidates and familiar faces in Trump’s orbit,” wrote Bailey, who was a top fundraiser for Trump’s campaigns and the inaugural committee, then signed up to put pressure on his administration. “We want those who attend to leave thinking 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 PAC’s national finance director was Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was dating Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., and that her board of directors included Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who advised Trump during his first dismissal; 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 intended for federal candidates approved by Trump. It is not known how many of them intend to attend. But some, including Harriet Hageman, who is launching a main challenge against Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of Trump’s toughest Republican critics, and Kelly Tshibaka, who is running in the primaries against Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. , were asked to keep the date, according to a person familiar with town planning who was not authorized to discuss it.

Yet Trump’s political activities have generated grumbling within his circle of supporters.

A donor who had supported Trump’s campaigns said he was hesitant to donate to Make America Great Again, Again! lest the money be wasted. Citing events at the former president’s properties as an example, the donor, who insisted on anonymity to avoid upsetting Trump and his allies, said he declined invitations to the candidates’ forum to starting in February and at a $ 125,000 fundraising dinner with Trump hosted by the super PAC last month in Mar-a-Lago.

Other donors and party leaders are worried about the damage Trump’s backing could do to the main challenges for Republicans who pushed back on his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Trump has been impeached twice, including after his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt Biden’s certification of victory. Since then he has been banned from the social media accounts he used so effectively to gain attention and punish his enemies without spending any money.

While Trump has announced the formation of his own media company, including a new social network to pick up the conversation, it has yet to take off and its funding has come under scrutiny. by securities regulators.

Trump’s team also continued to voraciously collect online for various PACs he directly controls, compiling a war chest of over $ 100 million last summer, and his team continued to fund style rallies. . countryside. 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 roundtables to raise money for his super PAC. He plans more gatherings in 2022 at locations chosen to help candidates he has supported, according to people familiar with the plans.

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

A nonprofit group called America First Policy Institute, which was launched last year to serve as a think tank for the Trump world, has the appearance of a Trump administration on hold. It raised over $ 20 million last year and has 110 employees, including Bondi, Whitaker and a number of former Trump cabinet members such as David Bernhardt (who headed the Home Office), Rick Perry (Department of Energy) and Andrew Wheeler (Environmental Protection Agency).

The group hosted two events with Trump at his properties – a fundraising gala in Mar-a-Lago in November and an event in Bedminster in July with Bondi to promote a Trump lawsuit against tech companies that have banned or restricted the ‘use of their platforms – and it provides for political summits twice a year across the country.

The next summit, slated for April in Atlanta, could feature Trump, according to group president Brooke Rollins, who served as director of the White House Home Policy Council under Trump and says she remains in touch with Trump. on the efforts of his group.

She said her group’s goal was to persuade Americans to support policies such as those pursued by Trump as president, and “not to get anyone re-elected,” although she said she hoped that the group’s efforts would shape the debates at mid-term and into 2024. presidential election.

“The measure of successful political organization is how much part of those policies are part of the debate,” she said.

A related nonprofit group called America First Works is promoting policies consistent with Trump’s agenda. They include voting rules that make it ‘hard to cheat,’ according to a fact sheet that appears to echo Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which his allies relied on to reshape the election legislative in a way that might favor Republicans. .

But the raft of new groups 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.

This super PAC, which brought the bank $ 5.6 million in mid-August, has been supplanted by the new PAC, according to a statement announcing the change in October, according to which the assets of the old PAC would be transferred. to the new.

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

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