The House GOP’s plan to win back power is becoming increasingly centered on one man: Donald J. Trump.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy became the latest in a parade of Republicans to make the pilgrimage to a Trump-owned property seeking the former President’s support, while scores of GOP candidates have been invoking Trump’s name and image to boost their campaign coffers, which are filling up at record rates.
The steady stream of schmoozing by top Republicans and the groundswell of grassroots support suggest that, six months after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, Trump still maintains an iron-like grip on the GOP and there are zero signs of that loosening anytime soon – even amid a damning drip of revelations about his conduct during his final months in office.
And with Republicans counting on Trump to be a crucial pillar of their efforts to reclaim the House majority next year, both in terms of fundraising and turnout, they are eager to stay in his good graces and reluctant to damage or provoke the mercurial ex-President over the next 16 months – especially as the January 6 probe heats up, which Trump will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on.
“He’s still the biggest dog in the Republican pound among the base,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, a Republican from Tennessee, referring to Trump.
Of course, tying the party so closely to Trump has its risks, too. The battle for the House will largely play out in suburban battleground districts where moderates and independents fled the party under Trump. Not to mention that the GOP lost the House, the Senate and the White House on Trump’s watch.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken a decidedly different approach toward Trump, careful to avoid talking about the ex-President even as Trump promises to play a role in several key contests.
But for the most part, Republicans see far more political upside to keeping Trump front and center.
“Leader McCarthy’s relationship with President Trump is an asset for the GOP as we all work together to retake the majority,” said GOP Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas.
Added Rep. David Valadao, a California Republican who voted to impeach Trump and backed an independent commission on January 6: “McCarthy is always going to do what he thinks is right for the entire caucus, so I trust him.”
‘Much to discuss!’
In a sign that Trump is eager to show he’s still in charge, he is the one who announced Thursday’s meeting at his New Jersey golf club – not McCarthy. “Much to discuss!” Trump said in a brief statement ahead of the meeting.
The purpose of their huddle was to talk about the midterms, including vulnerable House Democrats, upcoming special elections and fundraising numbers, according to a GOP source familiar with the meeting. McCarthy had already been in New Jersey stumping for Republican congressional candidate Tom Kean this week.
Afterward, McCarthy made clear that Trump will be central to their efforts to flip the House and called their conversation “productive.”
“As the midterm elections draw closer, I look forward to working together to build upon our success in 2020 where House Republicans flipped 15 seats, lost zero incumbents and elected the most women in conference history,” McCarthy said in a statement. “I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to help House Republicans defeat Democrats and Take Back the House in 2022.”
But the meeting – McCarthy’s second such sit-down since Trump left office – also came at a critical moment for the California Republican: McCarthy is weighing his picks for a select committee to investigate the deadly pro-Trump riot at the Capitol, though a GOP source said the issue did not come up on Thursday.
There is enormous pressure on McCarthy to name GOP members who can mount a vigorous defense of Trump. During his first impeachment, Trump was vocal about who he wanted out there fighting for him. McCarthy ultimately tapped Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio and a staunch Trump ally, for a high-profile role defending the then-President.
But with the select committee, McCarthy is trying to strike a delicate balance between Trump acolytes and more serious members who could have more credibility with middle America. While McCarthy has publicly said he hasn’t decided who to name – or even whether to name anyone – to the panel, sources expect him to have Republican members in place before the committee’s first hearing on July 27.
Further upping the ante for McCarthy, Democrats have made clear that he and Trump could both be called to testify before the select committee. How the congressional probe plays out could earn McCarthy a pile of chits or criticism from Trump, which could factor into any future speaker’s race.
McCarthy is hardly the only top Republican who has sought to stay on Trump’s good side. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana trekked to Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, while newly elected House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York and members of the conservative Republican Study Committee both made separate recent trips to Trump’s Bedminster golf club to raise campaign cash and talk midterm strategy.
Democrats, however, framed Thursday’s meeting as just another example of the GOP’s unflinching fealty to Trump, charging that Republicans are willing to look the other way when it comes to the ex-President – and in some cases even downplay the deadly events of January 6 – to boost their own political prospects.
“House Democrats are the party of monthly child tax credit payments that help working and middle-class families. The radical right continues to bend the knee to Donald Trump,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Trump, the cash cow
One reason Republicans have hugged Trump so tightly is that they see him as a fundraising goldmine for their party – and there is some evidence to suggest that might be true.
McCarthy and the House GOP’s campaign arm both recently posted record-breaking fundraising hauls, outpacing their Democratic counterparts in the money race. The minority leader raised a staggering $43.6 million in the first half of 2021, including $16.5 million raised in the second quarter, his office announced Wednesday. And the National Republican Congressional Committee raked in $45.4 million in the second quarter of 2021, the most it has ever raised in three months of a non-election year.
Meanwhile, plenty of Republican lawmakers have been padding their war chests by using Trump’s name and image in their fundraising appeals. On Trump’s birthday, for example, Scalise asked his supporters in a campaign email to wish the former President a happy one.
Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, meanwhile, used her recent border trip with Trump to raise cash, with the Colorado Republican saying in an email that she was “LIVE from the border” with the former President and “Trump asked me to be here.” Another freshman, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, attached a picture of himself and Trump flashing thumbs up in a fundraising pitch.
Mike Carey, a Republican candidate for an Ohio House seat, recently blasted out a fundraising email touting his Trump endorsement with the subject line: “President Trump says ‘YES.’ “
Taken together, these Trump-focused fundraising emails show how Republicans are fully embracing the former President in their quest to raise money and flip control of the House next year.
“People still love the President. So if he is involved, we’re going to be successful,” said Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, when asked about Trump’s ability to help the GOP raise cash.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Ryan Nobles and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.