Trump announcement looms over Georgia Senate runoff as GOP fractures

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump looks out at the audience as he speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik/AP

Trump announcement looms over Georgia Senate runoff as GOP fractures

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Barreling toward an expected presidential campaign announcement, former President Donald Trump is worrying Republicans who fear his rampage could shake up a delicate Senate runoff in Georgia.

With his midterm record under fire, Trump has been lashing out at aides privately and publicly condemning anyone he sees as a rival. Fearful of getting drawn into the fray, some allies have been steering clear of Mar-a-Lago, avoiding social events by pretending to be out of town, a Republican source told the Washington Examiner.

“It’s super messy. He’s all over the place. He’s screaming, yelling, losing it every five minutes,” said one operative. “When they talk about ‘It’s a complete meltdown,’ that’s not accurate. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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Trump has lashed out publicly at Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), whom the billionaire’s news properties have begun to rally around. The attacks on DeSantis burst from a low simmer in the run-up to Election Day to a boil as Florida tallied historic Republican margins, earning plaudits for the governor and prompting election night chants of “Two more years” in a nod to a term cut short by the presidency.

Swiping at the governor repeatedly, Trump appeared to grow more enraged by the day until alleging that he and now-Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) “sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys” to stop ballot theft in Florida that would have handed the 2018 election to his opponent.

On Friday, the former president targeted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another Republican whose battleground win has placed him among the ranks of GOP politicos seen as potential presidential rivals.

Republicans close to Trump have acknowledged that DeSantis is quickly gathering steam. But with control of the Senate still in play, some have suggested they hope he will take a step back.

The top concern for Republicans is next month’s runoff in Georgia after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Republican Herschel Walker failed to secure 50% of the vote.

“He’s going to announce and probably destroy Walker’s chances in Georgia,” a former Republican White House official said.

The former president helped recruit Walker to the race and casts a shadow over the state. Some Republicans view Trump as responsible for delivering both Georgia senate seats to Democrats in 2020 after his appearances during the last runoff while he was fighting claims of voter fraud.

The prospect of his presidential announcement next week is worrying party strategists watching Georgia’s swing independent and suburban voters. While preelection polls appeared to suggest the groups would tilt toward Republicans by large margins on Election Day, the results were blunted and did not yield the outcomes expected. A fraught presidential rollout could stir opposition to Trump among just the voters Walker hopes to clinch.

Yet aides have publicly described Trump as unmoved by guidance urging him to delay next week’s expected presidential announcement until a final election count.

“Trump is his own man. I think he’ll do whatever he wants and even more so now that he thinks everyone’s out to get him,” one Republican operative said.

Not everyone agrees that Trump should cool his heels. At least one close adviser wants him to stay the course, according to a source, in a mission lately bolstered by congressional allies, including Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who each issued endorsements this week, and defenders such as political activist Raheem Kassam.

The former president has long weathered frustrations around his fundraising and spending. And despite rippling accounts of voters turning their backs on Trump, it still isn’t clear whether the swell of opprobrium coursing through the strategist, donor, and media class is enough to dislodge the former president’s grip on what has been an immovable portion of the base.

Losing those rank-and-file voters would be a death knell, strategists say, but they were energized after the Mar-a-Lago raid and could swell as attention from prominent media figures and megadonors lift DeSantis.

Reelected this week in Florida with a 19 percentage point margin and a win in Democratic Miami-Dade County, many see the governor as a model for future victories.

DeSantis is also a welcome surrogate on the campaign trail, with Georgia Republicans telling CNN they would embrace a visit by the governor to boost Walker.

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Trump diehards desperate to calm the waters are blaming Republican leadership for the discord, speculating without apparent cause that DeSantis is being used to drive a wedge through the party and urging backers not to take the bait.

At the same time, DeSantis supporters are also working overtime to draw their favored candidate into a race. In a television appearance, general counsel for the “Ready for Ron” PAC Lilian Rodriguez-Baz said her group wants to harness the now “undeniable” swell of enthusiasm for the governor.

“He’s proven himself to be a leader,” Rodriguez-Baz said. “I think we can talk about him without bringing up anybody else.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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