Hundreds of Donald Trump administration officials, White House aides and congressional supporters gathered at a downtown DC hotel last month to praise the former president during a political summit organized by a think tank promoting its agenda.
The two-day event, hosted by the America First Policy Institute, was a celebration of the Trump era. But in perhaps a tacit acknowledgment of the uncertainty of Trump’s future, summit participants stressed that his policies – and his legacy – could be continued by someone else.
“The main goal [of the think tank] is for the conservative political movement … to be ready when the next Republican administration takes office,” said Kellyanne Conway, a former senior White House adviser who chairs the institute’s Center for the American Child.
“He’s there to make sure his political achievements, really the legacy of the Trump-Pence administration, are preserved and moved forward.”
Trump is the early frontrunner in the polls ahead of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, and his endorsement has helped elevate the candidates in GOP Competitive Primaries tuesday.
In Arizona, Trump-backed Senate candidate Blake Masters, a venture capitalist, won the Republican nomination, while gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former local TV anchor who campaigned with the former president, is in the lead in a race that is still too tight. call
And in Michigan, the former president’s preferred gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, will take on the Democratic governor. Gretchen Whitmer, while Rep. Pete Meijer, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump, lost to John Gibbs, who worked in the Trump administration.
But early wins haven’t stopped Republicans from trying to figure out how to retain Trump supporters while exploring the possibility of moving away from the former president.
Some, like those in the Never Trump movement, have been explicit in their efforts to return to mainstream conservatism since 2016. Others have attempted to frame his presidency as the launch of a movement that can be separated from its leader and continued by d ‘others.
Last year, several of Trump’s former White House aides and administration officials formed the AFPI, which grew out of political planning for his second term. The group has been called an “administration in waiting” and its leaders note that several of them were in the room when Trump made the biggest decisions of his presidency.
“I would say what Americans want are police officers who make their lives better regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and they had that under Donald Trump,” Hogan Gidley said. , a former deputy White House press secretary who heads the institute. Center of Election Integrity, which lobbies for more restrictive voter ID and mail-in voting laws. “And so whether Donald Trump is a candidate or a kingmaker, I think that’s what people want.”
For his part, Trump seems to see himself as both. He is expected to announce his third presidential bid as soon as this fall, although some allies have urged him to wait until November’s midterm elections, and has also strategically endorsed candidates for secretary of state and legislative elections who would play a key role in the administration of the upcoming presidential election.
The GOP has always hoped it could “sweat away the Trump years and … move on to someone who reflected a more traditional understanding of the conservative political agenda,” said Sarah Longwell, Republican strategist and founder of the Republican Accountability Project. , a political action committee that opposes candidates who promote Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election.
The question is whether voters will follow. Longwell has led nearly a dozen focus groups since the House committee investigated the January incident. Attack on the 6th began holding hearings in June and found that more Trump voters in 2020 don’t want him to run in 2024.
Although they do not watch the hearings and are discouraged by the former president, they are concerned about his eligibility, she said.
“They think he’s got too much baggage, they think too many people don’t like him,” Longwell said. “It’s not even about how they feel themselves.”
Trump’s return to Washington for the summit — his first visit since leaving office in January 2021 — came less than a week after Jan held his eighth public hearing. 6, which focused on the former president’s role in inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol and his inaction after he did so.
Hours after Trump’s speech at the July 26 summit, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department was investigating his actions involving the attack. Trump – along with several people in his inner circle – is also being investigated by Fulton County Dist. Atti. Fani Willis for allegedly interfering in Georgia’s 2020 election.
Besides his legal troubles, Trump also faces potential challenges from a younger generation of conservatives with less baggage, including the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, who urge Republicans to look to future elections and avoid questioning the past. Longwell said Trump voters in 2020 also mentioned Republican governors. Kristi Noem from South Dakota and Greg Abbott from Texas as possible 2024 candidates.
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign said “people are going to run for president no matter what Trump does at this point.”
“For any Republican politician with ambitions, he has to run in 2024 or he may never get another chance,” he said. “Eliminating Trump is risky, but in many ways Trump is a much weaker candidate now than he was in 2016, given everything that’s happened in the last five years.”
As a nonprofit that cannot engage in political activity or endorse candidates, the AFPI cannot explicitly endorse Trump, although the organization was founded on his ideals. However, some of those hired by the organization criticized the former president and pleaded for the party to continue.
In March 2021, the former governor of Louisiana. Bobby Jindal co-wrote in Newsweek editorial calling on Republicans to separate Trump from his politics.
“Many conservatives would not miss Trump, the man, if they could preserve the ideas that made America great,” he wrote.
Despite the editorial, Jindal was recruited by AFPI Chairman Brooke Rollins, a former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump, to lead the group. Center for a Healthy America.
“It’s about promoting state bills, state legislation, as well as federal legislation, so whoever the Republican candidate is in 24, whoever the next Republican president is, has these conservative policies that he’s with can work, that he can build on,” Jindal told the summit after leading a health care roundtable with members of Congress.
When asked if that candidate should be Trump, Jindal — one of more than a dozen Republicans who ran for president in 2016 — deflected.
“I think it will be time to focus on the presidential election after November,” he said. “Right now. I think every conservative, every Republican, should be focused on getting the House and Senate back together.”
Trump’s former White House adviser Peter Navarro has publicly criticized AFPI for hiring staff he says are not loyal enough to the former president, going so far as to warn Trump not to not speak at the summit and arguing that the institute wants to break with him while profiting from the success of his movement.
“That may well be the broader AFPI agenda: deflect the political appeal of Trumpism but replace Trump with an AFPI-anointed RINO,” Navarro wrote in an editorial for American Greatness, a conservative site.
AFPI staffers countered by stressing Trump’s support for the organization. In addition to his keynote address, Trump’s Save America PAC gave the group $1 million last year.
At the same time, Trump seems determined to fight to retain his role as the face of the America First movement.
In his opening address at the summit, Trump weighed in on the issue that will define the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination: his legal woes and his actions on Jan. 1. 6, 2021, make it ineligible?
He made a familiar promise to his cronies, declaring that despite his enemies’ best efforts to silence him, he would have a second act in the White House.
“They want to hurt you in any form, but they really want to hurt me so I can’t go back to working for you again,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
asset told New York magazine last month that he had already decided whether to run or not, and the only debate is over the timing of the announcement of his decision. He said he believed an announcement before the midterms would discourage others from running and potentially trigger a “backlash” against anyone who challenges him.
Most political observers agree that an early announcement would hurt Republicans’ efforts to keep voters focused on the struggles of the Biden administration.
“If Trump inserts himself into the final weeks of the election by announcing his candidacy, it blurs what should be a clear referendum,” Conant said. “I can’t think of a positive aspect to that.”
An announcement from Trump before the midterm elections would also be a “boon for Democrats”, the former Democratic representative said. Steve Israel, president of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University.
“If you look at the 2021 election, where Republicans did very well in state and local elections, the Democratic strategy was to try to get Donald Trump on the ballot in those races,” he said. “People didn’t accept him because he wasn’t on the ballot. But once he announces in 2022, he’s absolutely on the ballot.