In the lead-up to the contest between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Trump-endorsed challenger Herschel Walker, several GOP figures and Trump allies have already implored him not to hold a Georgia rally ahead of the runoff, according to two people familiar with the matter and another person briefed on the situation. Trump — who helped recruit Walker to run — and his advisers have discussed the possibility of heading to Georgia, though Trump hadn’t made a commitment as of last week.
Trump has, however, suggested to those close to him that he’ll react poorly if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigns — a potential 2024 rival — in Georgia while the Republican Party holds its once undisputed leader at arm’s length, the first two sources say. People who’ve recently spoken to Trump fear that if DeSantis were to announce a Georgia event, it would guarantee that Trump would also head to the state.
Trump has also vehemently argued to aides and confidants that his presence in the runoff would be a net positive for Walker, and he has accused pundits and Republicans who say he shouldn’t go to Georgia are unintelligent Trump haters.
But two years ago, when control of the Senate came down to two Georgia run-offs, Republicans lost both, and some blame Trump. High-level party figures are publicly warning that Trump’s presence could lead to a similar result this time around, fearing that Trump’s poor favorability among independent voters and election denialism could do more harm than good.
Adviser Jason Miller told Newsmax that he had advised Trump to “hold off until after the Georgia race.” Trump 2016 campaign senior adviser Mike Biundo told Fox News that “Walker’s campaign needs to be the priority and focus for our party.” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a vocal critic of Trump, told Fox that the announcement was “a terrible idea” and that whoever was advising the president to plow forward with his campaign plans “should be fired.”
According to one of the people familiar with the matter, the ex-president has privately complained about a Nov. 9 Fox News clip, during which his own former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say whether or not Trump should travel to Georgia — even though she added that DeSantis should be “welcome to the state.” Trump saw the Fox segment, starring one of his own past senior administration officials, as a “slap in the face,” per the source’s characterization.
One Republican, however, had a different vision. “I think if [Trump] and DeSantis and [Georgia Governor Brian] Kemp were to appear at the same rally it would be an enormous show of unity for Herschel,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an informal Trump adviser and a Walker booster. “If all three of them could come together, that would be ideal. It would bring all parts of the Republican Party together.”
Gingrich’s fantasy gathering seems unlikely to come true. Trump dislikes both DeSantis and Kemp, who refused to join the push to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. And setting aside his own ambitions and grievances is not Trump’s way.
Two elections — the 2024 GOP presidential primary and the Republicans’ underwhelming showing in the midterms — have heightened the debate over Trump’s role in the party. Many in the GOP blame Trump for the poor midterm showings, nothing that several Senate and gubernatorial hopefuls that he elevated through primaries had flopped in the general election. And those aspersions have complicated Trump’s nascent presidential campaign.
The twice-impeached former president was already shedding donors in the weeks leading up to the announcement, and he has lost two major financial backers since. Neither of Trump’s two-highest profile children attended the announcement: Don Jr. was out hunting, and Ivanka announced she was stepping away from politics entirely.
The tension is compounded by the fact that Republicans did not rush to Mar-a-Lago to endorse Trump’s presidential run. Sources close to Trump previously told Rolling Stone that the former president has been attempting to intimidate hesitant allies into making the commitment to Trump 2024.
As Rolling Stone reported earlier this month, Trump is soliciting inflammatory gossip about DeSantis and another possible 2024 GOP contender, Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Trump has threatened to reveal unflattering information about the Florida governor, and he recently christened DeSantis with the moniker “Ron DeSanctimonious.”