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GOP Senate Candidates Who Want You to Forget About Their Past Trump Criticism



In 2016, Bernie Moreno sounded like a lot of Republicans who were aghast at the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president.

A wealthy and politically active Ohio businessman, Moreno had immigrated from Colombia to the United States as a child, and was outraged by Trump’s rhetoric on immigration—so much so that he compared the GOP nominee to Adolf Hitler in a Twitter poll.

“We can’t throw out the people who came here as children. They don’t know anyone from their home countries,” Moreno said in a 2016 interview, defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “We need to help them come out of the shadows.”

When Trump won and moved to rescind DACA, Moreno was involved with a Michael Bloomberg-backed organization that pushed back against the decision.

Six years later, of course, many of Trump’s fiercest critics have become his strongest allies. But as his legal woes and political baggage mount, many top Republican officials, candidates, and donors are anxious to move on.

Moreno is not one of them. As he launches a campaign to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the onetime Trump apostate has cloaked himself in MAGA regalia, from his backing of Trump’s 2024 bid to his cultivation of Trumpworld figures to even his once-firm stance on immigration.


While Moreno’s pivot was in full swing during his brief and failed bid for Senate in 2022, as he angles to win the GOP primary in 2024, he is cranking up the volume. The playbook worked for now-Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), once an open Trump hater, who won that 2022 primary and then the general election. He has endorsed Moreno to join him in the Senate.

With the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border a top issue for Trump and Republicans, Moreno has excoriated the policies he once advocated—and the politicians who support them.

“This isn’t hard,’ Moreno tweeted in April. “When our political ‘leaders’ continually push open border policies & signal that people will be able to cross the border illegally, without penalty, and potentially remain here for years, then more people attempt to do so. Close the border. Stop the invasion.”

In a recent podcast interview, Moreno went so far as to compare migrants crossing the southern border now to the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. The Moreno campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding his past comments about Trump and immigration.

Across the emerging 2024 Senate battleground, Moreno is hardly the only GOP hopeful to have papered over or outright erased their past opposition—or even just ambivalence—toward Trump and his trademark policies in favor of full-throated support.

“Trump remains the political center of gravity for the Republican Party,” said GOP strategist Ken Spain. “Candidates facing potential primaries are clearly looking to re-ingratiate themselves with the base.”

Take Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV), the front-runner to take on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). A former Democrat, Justice was a vocal Trump backer and then cooled on the former president in 2020, deriding his performance in the presidential debates and decrying the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.


In interviews in January 2021, Justice would not even say whether or not Trump should be purged from the GOP, telling CNN that he didn’t really think he should have “a real solid opinion in regarding to that.” Justice also said “anybody with the brain would say, he’s gotten way, way, way past out over his skis.”

Now facing a GOP primary, Justice is more effusive than ever in his praise and support of Trump. He called his criminal indictment in Manhattan court a “travesty” that shows “the lack of respect… toward the commitment and accomplishments that President Trump has given us.” He even extended a thank you on behalf of West Virginia to the Trump family, “especially my huntin’ buddies Don Jr. and Eric.”

“I have always treasured our friendships,” Justice said of Trump’s eldest sons.

In response to questions from The Daily Beast about the governor’s record of comments about Trump, Justice campaign manager Roman Stauffer said that Justice “strongly supports” the former president.

“He maintains a strong friendship with the Trump family, especially Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr,” Stauffer said, adding that their primary rival, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), is backed by the Club for Growth, which is openly warring with Trump.

In Montana, wealthy businessman Tim Sheehy—Senate GOP brass’ favored candidate to take on Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)—recently said he is backing Trump 2024 “100 percent.” But he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 primary and donated the maximum amount to Nikki Haley’s PAC after Jan. 6. His first campaign check to Trump came this year.

As Trump faces stiffer GOP resistance than at any point since 2016, many observers will be looking for clues of how durable his hold on the party remains. That leading Republican candidates are actively moving toward him as they seek to win over primary voters is as good an indication as any that Trump is still dominant.


For many Republicans, this is unwelcome news. In 2020 and 2022, GOP failures to win Senate majorities were largely chalked up to Trump’s involvement. Ahead of 2024, with a Senate map that is stacked in the GOP’s favor, party brass are trying to minimize the ex-president’s influence on primaries—and perhaps thought political dynamics would help them.

“Coming off 2022, I think Republicans were hopeful that his influence had waned,” said Spain. “There was a lot of hope at the time that Ron DeSantis was climbing up the ranks of the party and Republicans would have to rely less on Trump in order to generate momentum for candidacies.”

But if the warmth toward Trump from their recruits is any indication, that’s not happening—which puts an unneeded damper on their 2024 chances.

“He puts a ceiling on potential gains,” said Spain. “He’s a net negative for Republican prospects in 2024. But you can’t get to the general election unless you survive the primary, and he holds the keys to the primary electorate.”

That foundational dynamic of GOP politics may complicate a number of potential campaigns—or prompt hopefuls to reconsider running altogether. Recently, Politico reported that top GOP recruits for the House and Senate are hesitant to run if Trump will be at the top of the 2024 ticket.

It’s uncomfortable even for Republicans who have traditionally fit the MAGA mold. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), who is also mulling a run against Tester, has long been a staunch ally of Trump. But he has held off on endorsing him in 2024—despite appearing personally at the post-indictment rally at Mar-a-Lago—as his wealthy backers at the conservative Club For Growth go to war against Trump.

For prospective candidates with distinctly non-MAGA records, the prospect of running for office while forcing an embrace of Trump—or attempting to keep strategic distance—may be painful or unpalatable.


The dilemma might be most acute for one of the GOP’s top recruits for Senate: hedge fund titan David McCormick, who is expected to challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and would be a formidable general election opponent.

But McCormick, as non-Trumpy a major candidate the GOP has seen in recent years, might not be able to survive a primary. In fact, he already has not: in 2022, he was defeated by Trump-backed Mehmet Oz, who went on to lose to now-Sen. John Fetterman, as Trump dinged him for being a “Wall Street Republican.”

The former CEO of finance giant Bridgewater, McCormick said he did not support Trump in 2016, did not buy into 2020 election conspiracies, placed blame at Trump’s feet for Jan. 6, and indicated he had no plans to support Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.

When asked about Trump’s bid in an April CNN interview, McCormick said Republicans need a “positive vision to solve the problems that are affecting everyday Americans” and said “campaigns looking backwards, not forwards, are not going to be successful.”

It’s possible McCormick could face an ultra-Trumpy candidate in the 2024 primary—far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who got blown out in the 2022 governor race in Pennsylvania.

Another potential GOP candidate in the McCormick mold is John Tuttle, the vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, who is considering a run for Michigan’s open Senate seat.

Unlike many Republicans who dislike Trump but praise his economic policies, Tuttle has actually expressed doubt on the ex-president’s record. “It’s a mixed bag,” Tuttle said in an interview in January 2019. “I think his policies certainly have an impact on the market for better or for, in some cases, worse.”


Despite donating generously to various GOP candidates and causes, Tuttle has not once donated a penny to Trump or any PAC associated with him. In 2015, he contributed the legal maximum of $2,700 to Marco Rubio’s presidential bid.

Other establishment-friendly candidates, meanwhile, are carrying a new kind of baggage in Trump’s GOP: open support for his biggest rival.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R)—a Marine veteran who chairs the House’s select committee on China—has not ruled out a run against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), and GOP brass openly hope for him to enter the race. But Gallagher has ruled out ever supporting Trump again after Jan. 6; in April, he was listed as a co-host for a D.C. meet-and-greet for DeSantis.

Another potential Ohio candidate, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, introduced DeSantis at a speech in Ohio in April. He has said he has no plans to endorse in the 2024 race anytime soon. LaRose, who administered Ohio’s elections in 2020, has pushed back against Trump’s election fraud claims, if indirectly. After the 2020 election, LaRose said, “it’s irresponsible when Republicans say an election was stolen and don’t have evidence.”

According to Spain, the GOP strategist, candidates have tended to fare poorly when they attempt to “thread the needle” when it comes to Trump—courting his voters while not going outright MAGA.

“Voters are capable of discerning whether or not a candidate is authentic,” he said. “And we’ll find out whether or not what some of these candidates are doing is enough to pass muster.”

Source: The Daily Beast


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