Former President Donald Trump’s last-minute pledge to deliver an endorsement in the Missouri GOP Senate primary set off a scramble among rival campaigns and allies of the former President, sources told CNN. The intense lobbying effort ultimately ended with Trump issuing a dual endorsement of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
As soon as Trump’s tease hit his Truth Social platform on Monday, he was inundated with calls from Republican allies concerned that he was on the brink of backing Greitens. But one source told CNN that Trump himself had not made a final decision at the time of his post.
Sources familiar with the matter said Trump spoke with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a longtime Greitens foe, who warned that an endorsement of the former governor would irreparably damage his relationship with top Senate Republicans. Hawley, who endorsed Rep. Vicky Hartzler in the primary, and others have long cautioned the former President that Greitens’ baggage makes him unelectable, potentially handing Democrats a pickup opportunity in a state that strongly favors Republicans.
Trump also spoke with Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, several times on Monday, according to two people familiar with their calls. Scott previously expressed concern about Greitens’ electability during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last December, acknowledging the “real concerns that [Greitens] might not be able to win in the general” that were circulating in GOP circles.
During his conversations with Scott and others, Trump was warned that the party’s election apparatus would not support Greitens financially if he became the nominee, “so [Trump] would have to support Greitens himself,” said one source.
Though Trump has amassed a war chest around $121 million between his four political action committees, he has contributed only a fraction of that fortune to midterm candidates so far this cycle. One current Trump adviser said the former President was annoyed that his $500,000 donation to a group backing Georgia GOP gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue didn’t move the needle in his primary against incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, and was hesitant about having to keep a Greitens campaign afloat in a general election contest.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel had traveled to Bedminster for a long-planned meeting with the former President Monday afternoon when she, too, was pressed for her opinion on the competitive Missouri Senate race.
Trump asked McDaniel if she had any thoughts on public polling around the Missouri primary and for her general take on the race. McDaniel echoed others in warning Trump that Greitens was the only candidate who would make the race competitive for the party, according to a person familiar with their conversation, part of which occurred while Kimberly Guilfoyle was in the room. Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Trump’s eldest son, is an adviser to Greitens and has spent months pushing the former President to endorse him as the true MAGA candidate.
Longtime Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin delivered a similar warning during a separate call with Trump, according to a person familiar, telling the former President that he didn’t think Greitens would be a good candidate at the end of the day.
The last-minute lobbying marked the culmination of weeks of behind-the-scenes pressure from advisers and allies inside the former President’s orbit, sources told CNN. Advisers had relayed to Trump long before Tuesday’s primary that for his endorsement to make a difference, he would need to announce it well in advance. As primary day drew closer, many of those in Trump’s circle believed he had decided to sit out the race.
The conversations around the GOP primary in Missouri began to wane until this past weekend as allies, operatives and advisers descended on Trump’s Bedminster club in New Jersey for the LIV Golf tournament. Guilfoyle was among those leading the push for the former President to endorse Greitens, who had sought Trump’s support for more than a year.
The former President spoke to both Greitens and Schmitt in the hours before he made his announcement. Two sources close to Trump suggested his omission of a last name in the endorsement was done deliberately to avoid throwing his full weight behind Greitens.
Afterward, both Greitens and Schmitt sought to lay claim to Trump’s endorsement. Greitens said he was “honored to receive” Trump’s endorsement, calling himself “the true MAGA Warrior” in the race. For his part, Schmitt said it was “truly an honor” to have Trump’s endorsement, referring to himself as “the only America First candidate in the race.”
Details of the behind-the-scenes lobbying of Trump were first reported by Politico.