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Trump aides build out the MAGA-verse with new groups

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Trump aides build out the MAGA-verse with new groups

Rollins is joining an increasingly long list of former White House officials who’ve set up Trump-allied political groups since the 2020 election, a roster that includes prominent figures in the former president’s orbit like ex-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. With Trump out of office and plotting his political future, the emerging ecosystem promises to bolster the former president as he prepares to dive into the 2022 midterm elections — and potentially launch a 2024 comeback bid.

The former aides are capitalizing on widespread donor interest in funding projects aligned with the former president, with pro-Trump givers ready to shell out big checks in order to keep the Trump agenda front and center. Now that the presidential campaign is no longer consuming donors, who can give unlimited amounts to nonprofits or super PACs, a space has emerged for former Trump advisers to finance their own endeavors.

“I think the investors that are out there,” Rollins said, are “really, really excited” about the idea of a vehicle that advocates for Trump’s policies. “For the people that are funding us,” she added, “they get it, they see the vision, they understand what’s at stake.”

Parscale’s new vehicle, the American Greatness Fund, is not explicitly pro-Trump, but its core themes are unmistakably aligned with the former president. The group’s mission statement describes it as a “nonprofit social welfare organization devoted to retaining, cultivating, and inspiring the grassroots energy of the ‘Make America Great Again’” movement. The organization, it adds, will focus on voter integrity issues by creating a website that will catalog legal and legislative efforts surrounding elections and combat what it describes as “cancel culture against conservatives.”

Parscale was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2020, but he has since made a return to the former president’s orbit and is helping to run his post-White House political efforts. Parscale said the American Greatness Fund, the existence of which was first reported by Axios, has so far raised $300,000.

Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager, has created Fight Back Now America, a political action committee that according to its website is devoted to “supporting candidates and policies that seek to advance the America First Agenda.”

The organization is expected to be heavily involved in 2022 Republican primaries by targeting those who backed Trump’s impeachment such as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, though it will also be focused on ousting Democrats in the general election. Lewandowski has separately been tapped to oversee the principal pro-Trump super PAC, though its unclear how that outfit will interface with Fight Back Now America.

Carson said in an interview that his American Cornerstone Institute is a conservative think tank that will emphasize election integrity, one of the ex-president’s fixations. Carson has also set up a PAC, Think BIG America, which can engage in elections and dish out funds to favored candidates.

“We’ll be very interested,” Carson said, “in who are the people who are advocating visions that are logical and that make sense.”

Russ Vought, who was Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, has set up Center for American Restoration, a think tank that espouses Trump’s fiery populist message. Vought blasted the political establishment in a recent piece published on The Federalist, a conservative website, and said his organization aimed “to give voice to the common, forgotten men and women across this great country.”

Vought, a veteran of Heritage Action, a prominent conservative advocacy group, has among other issues zeroed in on conservative censorship on online platforms, a cause that Trump has taken up after being banned by Twitter.

Whether Trump assists any of the organizations remains unclear. The former president has been focused on establishing his own political apparatus, and during a meeting last week with top advisers he signaled that he wanted to establish a Lewandowski-run super PAC, which would be able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Trump previously set up a leadership PAC, Save America, which could contribute directly to candidates but has restrictions on the amounts individual donors can contribute. During an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, he urged supporters to donate to Save America, which has already banked tens of millions of dollars.

Republicans have expressed interest in building out a constellation of new conservative nonprofit groups, believing that Democrats have established a critical advantage in that space in recent years. While nonprofits are limited in some ways in their ability to spend money on elections, they can raise unrestricted amounts of money and spend vast sums to influence voters. Unlike super PACs, they don’t have to disclose their donors.

Republicans point to Fair Fight, a collection of political and nonprofit organizations overseen by Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams devoted to voting rights, as a vehicle that has been particularly effective. Abrams has been credited with helping Democrats make gains in Georgia during the election, when President Joe Biden carried the state and the party seized both of its Senate seats.

Rollins said she has drawn staffers from the White House, the Trump campaign and Capitol Hill. She added that the outfit, which is also spearheaded by former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow, will focus on an array of policy issues that were central to the Trump White House, including school choice, energy independence and immigration reform.

We’re “taking all those ideas that we built out over the last four years and leaning into them,” said Rollins, who prior to joining the White House oversaw the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin.

The glut of Trump-aligned organizations could create complications. Some senior Republicans have expressed concern that there may be competition over donors, who may be confused about which outfit to support. They say major contributors are waiting for the former president’s political apparatus to fully form and are waiting for guidance from him on where they should direct their funds.

Carson dismissed the idea that there would be clashing between the different groups and noted that his organization had been in touch with Vought’s. The two organizations are headquartered in close proximity to one another on Capitol Hill.

“The way I look at it, we’re fighting for the same things,” Carson said. “We need as many people in that fight as we can get.”

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‘A nicer version of Trump’: GOP donors flock to DeSantis

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'A nicer version of Trump': GOP donors flock to DeSantis

POLITICO’s Holly Otterbein reports on how Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s Senate run has become an inflection point in the Democratic party. Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won’t bring progressive “court packing” legislation to the floor. And House Minority Leader McCarthy meets with scandal-ridden Rep. Matt Gaetz.

The enthusiasm was on full display during DeSantis’ appearance at last weekend’s Republican National Committee donor gala in Palm Beach, Fla., where he drew wild applause for declaring the party needed figures who withstood public pressure and weren’t afraid to confront what he called the “elite, New York corporate media.”

The governor was mobbed over the course of the weekend. Joanne Zervos, a New York City donor who spoke with DeSantis during the conference, said many contributors saw him as “a nicer version of Trump,” someone who had embraced the former president’s policies but lacked his rough edges. Zervos said she was drawn to the governor because of his approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

DeSantis last week also made a surprise appearance at a donor retreat convened by the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization overseen by Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The event was held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. During his appearances last week, some attendees approached him and encouraged him to run in 2024.

Whether DeSantis’ popularity among donors is lasting or fleeting remains an open question. The 2024 nominating contest is a long way off, and other would-be candidates have also developed close relationships with contributors. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was also well-received at the RNC retreat, according to attendees. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has previously drawn financial support from hedge fund manager Paul Singer, one of the party’s most sought-after givers. Pence spent years cultivating big contributors, many of whom were uncomfortable with Trump but saw the then-vice president as an ally within the administration.

For now, DeSantis aides insist that the 42-year-old governor is focused squarely on running for reelection and hasn’t begun thinking about the presidential contest, something they have been trying to remind donors. The governor faces a potentially challenging 2022 contest against Democratic state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is expected to enter the race soon.

But DeSantis’ aggressive courtship of national givers bears striking similarities to the approach then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush used in his 1998 reelection race, which preceded his presidential bid two years later. Bush spent the 1998 campaign traveling the country and introducing himself to the Republican Party’s biggest donors, many of whom contributed to his reelection effort and later became key to his 2000 national campaign.

As he embarks on his fundraising blitz, DeSantis has begun building a team with national experience. He has tapped veteran Republican strategist Phil Cox to help oversee his 2022 campaign. Cox, who has developed deep ties to the donor class through his past leadership of the Republican Governors Association, accompanied the governor to last week’s retreats.

But DeSantis’ most potent fundraising weapon may be his home state, which has long been home to some of the GOP’s biggest bankrollers. The governor has tapped into upscale areas like Miami Beach, where during a multistop March swing he appeared at a fundraising lunch at the La Gorce Country Club that was hosted by real estate developer Jimmy Tate. Others present included investor Jimmy Resnick.

Florida’s list of major Republican Party donors is getting longer. While the state has long attracted the wealthy through its promise of low taxes and warm weather, the pandemic has supercharged the migration. Financial leaders say they’ve been drawn to DeSantis’ reluctance to embrace the stringent mitigation policies implemented by blue-state governors that have taken a toll on businesses.

The roster includes venture capitalist David Blumberg, who in November moved to the Miami Beach area from San Francisco. Blumberg, who contributed more than $100,000 to Trump’s reelection effort, has met with DeSantis around a half-dozen times since arriving to the state.

“I have admired Gov. DeSantis from afar,” Blumberg said. “Since I’ve moved to Florida with my family, I’ve gotten to know him reasonably well and have a very good impression of what I’ve seen.”

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

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The GOP-Big Business Divorce Goes Deeper Than You Think

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a legendary business professor and associate dean at the Yale School of Management, has watched this split grow in recent years, and has heard it from CEOs he knows and works with. What the GOP cares about and what major businesses care about is, increasingly incompatible, he says.

“The political desire to use wedge issues to divide — which used to be fringe in the GOP — has become mainstream,” Sonnenfeld says. “That is 100 percent at variance with what the business community wants. And that is a million times more important to them than how many dollars of taxes are paid here or there.”

Over the weekend, Sonnenfeld hastily organized a Zoom conference with roughly 100 major corporate executives to talk through the voter restrictions being considered by state legislatures throughout the country, and about the way top Republicans like McConnell and Ted Cruz are responding with attacks on businesses that speak up in opposition.

Most of the CEOs on the call were Republicans; Sonnenfeld himself has been an informal adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, but he has a longstanding relationship with McConnell, and spoke at the senator’s wedding to Elaine Chao. The CEOs “ranged from amused to outraged” in their reaction to the GOP attacks on businesses, says Sonnenfeld. “Their comments ranged from talk about ‘taxation without representation’ to the paradox of ‘cancel culture’: It’s OK if they speak out, but only as long as they stay on script?”

As the GOP tries to position itself as the home of “working-class values,” capturing loyalty with a steady campaign against the perceived excesses of progressive culture, it’s running afoul of a business community that can’t simply silo off “culture war” topics. In the eyes of major corporations, issues like voting rights, immigration and transgender-inclusive restrooms have economic impact, too. The millions of people alienated by those fights aren’t just their future customers, many of whom expect to support brands they believe in, they’re the companies’ employees.

“The bad news for Republicans is that they seem to have a 1920s view of who big business’s workforce is,” says Sonnenfeld. “That workforce is, at a minimum, highly diverse — and they get along. Trying to stir that up is misguided.”

The new Republican penchant for mocking corporations for being too socially aware — for instance, Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter threat to use the power of the state to harm Major League Baseball’s business, signing the message off with “go woke, go broke” — fundamentally misunderstands what matters to business in the 21st century, says Sonnenfeld. “Basically, business leaders believe that it’s in the interest of society to have social harmony… Divisiveness in society is not in their interest, short term or long term.”

If the marriage between the Republican Party and the business community is on the rocks, what does that mean for politics? What do we misunderstand about what really matters to CEOs? And why aren’t business executives more afraid of boycott threats from the right?

For answers to all of that and more, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Sonnenfeld this week. A condensed transcript of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

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Pence has pacemaker implanted – POLITICO

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Pence has pacemaker implanted - POLITICO

Former Vice President Mike Pence had a pacemaker implanted on Wednesday, his office announced in a release Thursday.

After being named to Donald Trump’s ticket in 2016, Pence disclosed that he had been diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, he said. In the past two weeks, Pence’s office said he had begun to have symptoms related to a “slow heart rate.”

Pence then had the pacemaker inserted in a successful “routine surgery” at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va., his office said in the statement. Pence is “expected to fully recover and return to normal activity in the coming days,” the statement said.

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