‘America First’ without Trump? Conservatives are planning on it

Hundreds of Donald Trump’s administration officials, White House advisers and congressional supporters rallied at a downtown DC hotel last month to smack the former president at a political summit hosted by a think tank promoting his agenda.

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

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

“It’s here to ensure that his political achievements, truly the legacy of the Trump-Pence administration, are preserved and developed.”

Trump is the early favorite in the polls ahead of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race, and his endorsement helped elevate candidates in Tuesday’s competitive GOP primary.

In Arizona, Trump-backed Senate nominee Blake Masters, a venture capitalist, has clinched the Republican nomination, while gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, a former local TV host who fought with the former president, is ahead in a race yet to close to call.

And in Michigan, Tudor Dixon, the former president’s preferred gubernatorial candidate, will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while Rep. Pete Meijer, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump, lost to John Gibbs, who worked in the Trump administration .

But the early victories aren’t stopping Republicans from figuring out how to hold on to Trump’s supporters while exploring the potential for a departure from the former president.

Some, like those of the Never Trump movement, have explicitly sought a return to traditional conservatism since 2016. Others have tried to portray his presidency as the start of a movement that can be separated from its leader and carried on by others.

Last year, several of Trump’s former White House staffers and administration officials formed the AFPI, which grew out of policy planning for his second term. The group has been dubbed the “administration on hold,” and its leaders note that several of them were in the room when Trump made the biggest decisions of his presidency.

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

For his part, Trump seems to see himself as both. He is expected to announce his third presidential bid as early as this fall, although some allies have urged him to wait until after November’s midterm elections, and he has also strategically backed candidates in foreign ministerial and legislative elections that would play key roles Administration of the next presidential elections.

The GOP has always hoped it could “sweat out the Trump years and … move on to someone who reflects a more traditional understanding of the conservative political agenda,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and founder of the Republican Accountability Project, a politician’s action committee that Opposes candidates promoting Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election.

The question is whether voters will follow. Longwell has led nearly a dozen focus groups since the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack began hearings in June, and has noted that a growing number of Trump’s 2020 voters do not want him to run in 2024.

Although they are not following the hearings and are put off by the former president, they are concerned about his eligibility, she said.

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

Trump’s return to Washington for the summit — his first visit since leaving office in January 2021 — came less than a week after the committee’s Jan. 6 eighth public hearing focused on the former president’s role in inciting the mob who 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 is investigating his actions related to the attack. Trump – along with several in his circle – is also under investigation by Fulton County Dist. atty Fani Willis for alleged interference in the 2020 Georgia election.

Aside from his legal woes, Trump also faces potential challenges from a younger generation of conservatives with less baggage, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, who is urging Republicans to look forward to future elections and one avoid re-trial the past. Longwell said Trump’s 2020 voters also mention Republican governors. South Dakota’s Kristi Noem and Texas’ Greg Abbott as possible candidates for 2024.

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said that “no matter what Trump does at that point, people will run for president.”

“Any Republican politician with ambitions must run in 2024 or they may never get another chance,” he said. “Taking Trump out is risky, but in many ways Trump is a much weaker candidate now than he was in 2016 given what has happened over the past five years.”

As a non-profit organization that cannot engage in politics or endorse candidates, AFPI cannot explicitly endorse Trump, although the organization was founded on his ideals. However, some of those hired by the organization were critical of the former President and advocated for the party to continue.

In March 2021, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal co-authored an op-ed for Newsweek urging Republicans to disconnect Trump from his politics.

“Many conservatives wouldn’t miss Trump the man if they could preserve the ideas that made America great,” he wrote.

Despite the comment, Jindal was recruited by AFPI President Brooke Rollins, a former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump, to head the group’s Center for a Healthy America.

“It’s about promoting state law, state law as well as federal law, so whoever the Republican nominee is in year 24, whoever the next Republican president is, they have these conservative policies that they can work with, that they can build on ‘ Jindal told Summit after chairing a public health panel with members of Congress.

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

“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 taking back the House and Senate.”

Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro has publicly criticized AFPI for hiring staff who he believes are not loyal enough to the former president to capitalize on his movement’s success.

“That may well be AFPI’s broader agenda: hijack the political appeal of Trumpism, but replace Trump with an AFPI-anointed RINO,” Navarro wrote in an op-ed for American Greatness, a conservative website.

AFPI officials have countered by citing Trump’s support for the organization. In addition to his keynote address, Trump’s Save America PAC gave the group $1 million last year.

At the same time, Trump appears determined to fight to retain his role as the face of the America First movement.

In his keynote address at the summit, Trump addressed the question that will define the 2024 Republican presidential race: Will his legal issues and actions render him ineligible on January 6, 2021?

He made an intimate promise to his acolytes, stating that despite his enemies’ efforts to silence him, he would make a second appearance at the White House.

“They want to harm you in some way, but they really want to harm me so I can’t work for you anymore,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Trump told New York magazine last month that he has already decided whether or not to run and the only debate is over when to announce his decision. He said he believed an announcement before the midterms would discourage others from running and potentially spark a “backlash” against anyone who challenged him.

Most political observers agree that an early announcement would hurt Republicans’ efforts to focus voters on the Biden administration’s struggles.

“Trump interfering in the final weeks of the election by announcing his candidacy clouds what should be a clear referendum,” Conant said. “I can’t think of a positive aspect.”

A Trump announcement before the midterm elections would also be a “bonanza for Democrats,” said former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, chair of Cornell University’s Institute for Politics and Global Affairs.

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

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-03/america-first-next-republican-administration ‘America First’ without Trump? Conservatives are planning on it

Alley Einstein

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