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Wake Up To Politics - April 15, 2022

Wake Up To Politics: Trumpier than Trump?
Wake Up To Politics - April 15, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Friday, April 15, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 207 days away. Election Day 2024 is 935 days away.

Today is Good Friday and tonight is the first night of Passover. It’s also the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death in 1865.

Let’s start off this morning’s newsletter with a look at Trump and the Republican Party as a slew of 2022 primary contests heat up:

Is the GOP now Trumpier than Trump?

Most former presidents — at least since the collapse of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” comeback bid in 1912 — have shied away from electoral politics after leaving office.

They might make an endorsement here or there, or speak at a convention or two: but for the most part, they duck out of the arena to paint or paddle board and leave the politicking to their successors.

Donald Trump, as we well know, is not like most former presidents.

Since (begrudgingly) leaving the White House in January 2021, he has offered 139 endorsements to political candidates, per Ballotpedia, along with promoting them (and himself) in a never-ending stream of statements, interviews, and rallies.

As he mulls whether to make another run for the presidency in 2024, Trump has sought to use the 2022 elections to show the Republican Party remains firmly within his grasp and stock the GOP’s ranks with allies across the country.

He has offered his “Complete and Total Endorsement” in races for everything from county district attorney and state comptroller to governors and senators (and plenty of secretaries of state).

Donald Trump at a post-presidential rally in Arizona last year. (Gage Skidmore)

There have already been some well-publicized face plants. One of Trump’s endorsees, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell, had to end his campaign after allegations from his estranged wife that he had abused her and their children.

In the Republican Senate primary in Alabama, Trump rescinded his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks — apparently because Brooks had urged Republicans to put the 2020 election “behind us,” but likely also because Brooks was running third in the polls.

A number of other Trump picks are floundering in their primaries as well, from his candidate for governor in Idaho to his acolyte in Alaska’s Senate race. Like Parnell, other Trump favorites have faced claims of sexual misconduct; on Wednesday, the Nebraska Examiner reported on eight groping allegations against the Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate in that state, including one from a Republican state senator. Here’s

But I want to zero in on one dynamic that is especially notable: Many of Trump’s endorsements have faced pushback even from his own close allies. Here’s what I mean:

  • In Pennsylvania’s Senate race, Trump’s recent endorsement of Mehmet Oz (better known as television’s “Dr. Oz”) has sparked “backlash” from MAGA luminaries like Laura Ingraham and his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway who say he chose wrong.
  • In Ohio’s Senate race, Trump is reportedly planning to endorse “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance — which has not gone over well with allies who are dissatisfied with Vance’s MAGA bona fides (and his past criticisms of the former president).
  • In Georgia’s gubernatorial race, even Trump’s other endorsees in the state have declined to endorse Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue’s challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp.
  • In a Tennessee House race, Trump-allied Reps. Marjorie Taylor Grenee and Madison Cawthorn — as well as right-wing pundits Candace Owens and Sebastian Gorka — have decried his endorsement of former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus over pro-Trump activist Robby Starbuck.
  • In a North Carolina House race, local conservatives who “adore” Trump have dismissed his backing of 26-year-old candidate Bo Hines.
Trump’s reported plans to endorse J.D. Vance have sparked controversy in GOP circles. (Gage Skidmore)

All of these examples add up to a surprising willingness to break with Trump by people who largely owe their careers to him.

Does that mean the MAGA movement has moved on from its creator? Not quite yet.

But the major test of Trump’s strength will come in May, when all of the states mentioned above (except for Tennesee) will hold their primaries — and we’ll see then whether Trump succeeds, or if his own acolytes will manage to out-Trump him.

In some ways, though, this dynamic only proves Trump’s dominance over the party. In most of these contests, the so-called “Never Trump” wing of the party is not even a factor: the races are Trump supporter vs. Trump supporter, all battling for the former president’s blessing (although it is notable that they are unwilling to yield even when they don’t win his support).

The language of today’s Republican primaries is Trump’s, from “America First” to “election integrity.” That this is true even among candidates who Trump himself opposes only underlines how much he has remade the party; the only question, then, is whether it has been remade so fully that, for some in the MAGA faithful, Trump personally need not be in the equation.

Potential presidential candidates in 2024 are surely taking note. If pro-Trump candidates win primaries next month without his endorsement, it could show that Trump’s ideological and rhetorical transformation of the party remains — but that his personal grasp on the GOP has slipped since his loss in 2020.

In some ways, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — at this point, probably Trump’s most formidable possible rival in 2024 — has already begun testing whether it’s possible to out-Trump Trump, with his swipe at Trump’s Covid policies (for being too pro-lockdown, that is).

If the only way to beat Trump is to go even more MAGA than him, DeSantis might not be the only Republican you see tiptoeing towards that strategy in the months ahead.  

The bottom line from all these primary contests: If the GOP continues along its current trajectory, its next standard bearer will likely be Trump — or someone even Trumpier.

Could Gov. Ron DeSantis out-Trump Trump? (Gage Skidmore)

Catch up

The other headlines you should know this morning.

CONGRESS: “Colleagues worry Dianne Feinstein is now mentally unfit to serve, citing recent interactions” San Francisco Chronicle

  • Three Democratic senators and one Democratic congressman anonymously told the Chronicle that Feinstein’s “memory is rapidly deteriorating” and she often doesn’t recognize longtime colleagues at the Capitol.
  • Feinstein, 88, has been elected to serve through 2024. If Democrats keep control of the Senate this November, she is slated to become Senate president pro tem — which would place her third in line to the presidency.

2024: “RNC votes to withdraw from presidential debates commission” Washington Post

  • Yesterday, I wrote about the changes Democrats are making to their presidential primary calendar, likely putting an end to Iowa’s historic first-in-the-nation caucuses.
  • If the eventual Republican nominee follow through on the party’s threat not to participate in presidential debates, it means yet another part of the traditional presidential campaign infrastructure will fall to the waysides in 2024.

UKRAINE: “Russia warns of further attacks on Kyiv after sinking of flagship Moskva warship” CBS News

  • Remember the Russian warship that a Ukrainian soldier told to “go f--- yourself” early in the war? That was the Moskva.
Are presidential debates a thing of the past? (Adam Schultz / Biden campaign)

Policy brief

Every morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer briefings on the latest news in a different policy area.

Here’s Anna Salvatore with two legal stories you should know:

Ukrainian authorities have begun a wide-ranging investigation into potential Russian war crimes. According to the Wall Street Journal, the effort involves more than a thousand people in total, including attorneys, data specialists, and emergency service workers.

The chief prosecutor of Bucha told the Journal that his goal is to identify every person responsible for murder, torture, and assault during the Russian occupation. City officials claim that at least 400 civilians have been killed in Bucha, with many of them discovered outside their homes with their hands bound. Both the International Criminal Court and the French Interior Ministry of Justice have already investigators and doctors into Ukraine.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill this week that would outlaw nearly all abortions in the state. Though the law does not include any punishments for women who obtain an abortion, it prescribes prison sentences of up to ten years and a maximum fine of $100,000 for abortion providers. The only permitted abortions would be to save a woman’s life during a medical emergency, with no exceptions granted for pregnancies borne through rape or incest.

“We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country,” Stitt said, adding that “we want to outlaw abortion.” The law is one of several strict abortion laws passed in Republican-led states recently, as the Supreme Court continues to mull whether to weaken (or completely overturn) Roe v. Wade in a case from Mississippi.

Look ahead

How your leaders in Washington are spending their time today. (All times Eastern)

Biden’s day: Biden is at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. He has no events on his public schedule.

Harris’ day: Meeting with Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president of Tanzania (10:40 am)
On Capitol Hill: Both chambers of Congress are on recess until April 25.

At the Supreme Court: The justices aren’t hearing any cases until April 18.

Before I go...

One happier news story: D.C. resident Abby Sevcika’s story was widely shared on social media this week after her dog Pablo was stolen at gunpoint.

Thankfully, on Thursday, she announced that Pablo had been recovered, with help from the D.C. Police. Take a look:

Unfortunately, the search continues for another dog stolen in D.C. by the same perpetrators. Here’s the information for those of you in Washington.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe