America First without Trump? The conservatives are planning it

Hundreds of Donald Trump administration officials, White House aides and congressional supporters gathered last month at a downtown D.C. hotel to praise the former president at a political summit hosted by a think tank promoting his agenda.

The two-day event, hosted by the America First Policy Institute, was a celebration of the Trump era. But perhaps tacitly acknowledging the uncertainty of Trump’s future, the summit participants stressed that his policies – and his legacy – could be carried on by someone else.

“The main objective [of the think tank] so that the conservative political movement … is ready when the next Republican administration comes in,” said Kellyanne Conway, a former White House senior adviser who heads the Institute’s Center for the American Child.

“He’s here to make sure his political achievements, really the legacy of the Trump-Pence administration, are preserved and developed.”

Trump is the front-runner in the vote ahead of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, and his backing has helped candidates rise in the rankings. competitive GOP primaries on Tuesday.

In Arizona, Trump-backed Senate candidate Blake Masters, a venture capitalist, has won the Republican nomination, and gubernatorial candidate Cary Lake, a former local broadcaster who campaigned with the former president, is leading a race that is still too close. call.

And in Michigan, the former president’s favorite candidate for governor, Tudor Dixon, will take on a Democratic governor. Gretchen Whitmer, and Republican Rep. Pete Meyer, who voted to impeach Trump, lost to John Gibbs, who worked in the Trump administration.

But the early victories aren’t stopping Republicans from trying to figure out how to keep Trump’s supporters while exploring the possibility of moving away from the former president.

Some, such as those involved in the Never Trump movement, have openly tried to return to traditional conservatism since 2016. Others have tried to present his presidency as the beginning of a movement that can be separated from its leader and continued by others.

Last year, several former Trump White House aides and administration officials formed AFPI, which grew out of policy planning for his second term in office. The group has been described as a “waiting administration” and its leaders note that some of them were in the room when Trump made the most important decisions of his presidency.

“I would say that the American people want policies that would improve their lives, regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and they had it under Donald Trump,” said Hogan Gidley, a former White House deputy press secretary. who heads the institute. Center for Election Integrity, which pushes for more restrictive voter ID and absentee ballot laws. “So, whether Donald Trump is a candidate or a kingmaker, I think that’s what people want.”

For his part, Trump seems to consider himself both. He is expected to announce his third presidential candidacy as early as this fall, although some allies are urging him to wait until the November midterm elections and are strategically backing secretary and legislative candidates who will play key roles in the presidential election. Administration of the next presidential election.

The Republican Party has always hoped it could “wait out the Trump years and … move on to someone who reflects a more traditional understanding of the conservative political agenda,” said Sarah Longwell, Republican strategist and founder of the Republican Accountability Project, an anti-candidate political action committee. promoting Trump’s “big lies” about the 2020 election.

The question is whether voters will follow. Longwell has held nearly a dozen focus groups since the House committee investigated the January crime. Attack 6 began holding hearings in June and found that more and more Trump voters in 2020 do not want him to run in 2024.

While they don’t follow the hearings and are repulsed by the former president, she says they worry about his being elected.

“They think he has too much baggage, they think too many people don’t like him,” Longwell said. “It’s not even about how they feel.”

Trump’s return to Washington for the summit – his first visit since leaving office in January 2021 – comes less than a week after the eighth public hearing, held in January 2021. 6, who focused on the former president’s role in instigating the mob that stormed the Capitol and his inaction thereafter.

Hours after Trump’s speech at the July 26 summit, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department was investigating his actions in connection with the attack. Trump – along with several people from his entourage – is also under investigation by the Fulton County Dist. Atti. Fani Willis for alleged meddling in the 2020 Georgian elections.

In addition to legal troubles, Trump is also facing potential trouble from a younger generation of conservatives with less baggage, including Florida’s governor. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, who urges Republicans to “look forward” to future elections and avoid revisiting the past. Longwell said Trump voters in 2020 also mention Republican governors. Kristy Noem of South Dakota and Greg Abbott of Texas as possible contenders for 2024.

Alex Conant, Republican strategist who worked for a Florida senator. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign stated that “people will run for president no matter what Trump does at the moment.”

“Any Republican politician with ambition should run in 2024 or they may never have another chance,” he said. “Removing Trump is risky, but in many ways, Trump is a much weaker candidate now than he was in 2016, given everything that has happened in the last five years.”

As a non-profit organization that cannot engage in political activities or support candidates, AFPI cannot explicitly support Trump, although the organization was founded on his ideals. However, some of the people hired by the organization are critical of the former president and urge the party to move on.

In March 2021, former Governor of Louisiana. Bobby Jindal co-wrote article in Newsweek urging Republicans to disassociate Trump from his politics.

“Many conservatives would not miss Trump, the man, if they could keep the ideas that made America great,” he wrote.

Despite the article, Jindal was hired by AFPI President Brooke Rollins, former director of the Trump White House Domestic Policy Council, to lead the group. Healthy America Center.

“It’s about moving state bills, state legislation, and federal legislation as well, so whoever is the Republican nominee in ’24, whoever is the next Republican president, they have these conservative policies that they can work that they can rely on,” Jindal said at the conference. Summit after leading a health panel with members of Congress.

When asked if Trump should be that candidate, Jindal — one of more than a dozen Republicans who ran for president in 2016 — ducked.

“I think it’s time to focus on the presidential election after November,” he said. “Right now. I think every conservative, every Republican should focus on getting the House and Senate back.”

Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro has publicly criticized AFPI for hiring staff he believes are not loyal enough to the former president, going so far as to warn Trump not to speak at the summit and claiming the institute wants to break with him while relying on the success of his movement.

“This could very well be the broader agenda of the AFPI: steal the political appeal of trumpism but replace Trump with an AFPI-appointed RINO,” Navarro wrote in article for American Greatness, a conservative website.

In response, AFPI staff pointed to Trump’s support for the organization. In addition to its keynote, Trump’s Save America GAC ​​gave the group $1 million last year.

At the same time, Trump appears committed to fighting to maintain his role as the face of America First.

In his keynote speech at the summit, Trump touched on the question that will determine the course of the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination: Will his legal challenges and actions be on January 1, 2024? Does December 6, 2021 make him unelected?

He made a familiar promise to his aides, declaring that despite his enemies’ best efforts to silence him, he would stage a second act at the White House.

“They want to hurt you in any way, but what they really want is to hurt me so that I can no longer work for you,” he said. “I don’t think it will happen.”

Trump told New York magazine He had already decided last month whether or not to run, and the only debate is over the timing of his announcement. He said he thought an announcement ahead of the midterm elections would deter others from participating in the election and potentially spark a “backlash” against anyone who challenged him.

Most political observers agree that an early announcement will hurt Republicans’ efforts to win voters into the Biden administration’s struggles.

“If Trump intervenes in the last weeks of the election by announcing his candidacy, it will confuse what should be a clear referendum,” Conant said. “I can’t think of a positive aspect of it.”

Trump’s announcement ahead of the midterms will also be a “bonanza for Democrats,” the former Democratic Rep. said. Steve Israel, Chairman of the Institute for Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University.

“If you look at the 2021 election, when the Republicans did very well in the state and local elections, the Democrats’ strategy was to try and get Donald Trump on the ballot in those races,” he said. “People didn’t accept it because it wasn’t on the ballots. But once he announces it in 2022, he will be fully on the ballot.”