Former President Trump summoned four Republican Senate candidates running to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) for a secret-sit down ahead of a fundraiser at his golf club in Florida on Wednesday night, according to Politico.
Before dinner began, one of Trump’s aides signaled to the candidates in attendance that the former president had requested that they huddle with him in a room just off the lobby. The four Ohio Senate hopefuls included former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, technology company executive Bernie Moreno and investment banker Mike Gibbons.
The four contenders were visiting Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club to attend a fundraiser benefiting Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who is running to unseat Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH). Gonzalez was among the 10 House Republicans who voted in favor of Trump’s second impeachment in January for “incitement of insurrection.”
According to Politico, a 15-minute backroom meeting reminiscent of boardroom scenes on the former president’s reality TV show “The Apprentice” ensued as the Ohio Senate candidates jockeyed for Trump’s support.
Politico reported that Mandel boasted he was “crushing” Timken in polling, while Timken bragged about her support on the ground due to her time serving as Ohio state party chair. Gibbons cited his history of helping the Trump campaign financially and Moreno pointed out that his daughter worked on the former president’s re-election campaign.
One person familiar with the exchanges in the meeting described the scene as “Hunger Games,” where the Ohio Republican Senate hopefuls were thrown into an unexpected and awkward showdown for Trump’s support ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Trump reportedly began the meeting by asking the four contenders about how their candidacies were going. Timken, who Trump tapped as the chair of the Ohio GOP, went first and touted her supposed early support as well as her experience working to re-elect the former president.
Two people familiar with the meeting said that Trump pointed out that Timken initially stood by Gonzalez after the Republican lawmaker voted for the former president’s impeachment in January. Timken replied that she had “cleaned” up her defend of Gonzalez, referring to a statement she later released demanding that Gonzalez resign.
Another person briefed on the meeting insisted to Politico that Trump was simply poking fun at Timken over the pat defense of Gonzalez, and that the former president complimented Timken for her work as Ohio GOP chair later on in the night.
Most of the tension during the meeting was mostly between Timken and Mandel, both of whom seemed to attempted to outdo one another. While Timken and Mandel already announced their candidacies, Gibbons and Moreno have yet to formally launch their bids.
In addition to repeatedly jabbing Gonzalez throughout the evening, Trump also reportedly took aim at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) during the fundraising event. The former president took offense when DeWine called Joe Biden “president-elect” lat fall.
Trump has not endorsed any candidate in the Ohio Senate race, and did not signal his endorsement during the fundraising event.
The former president’s reported “Apprentice”-like sit-down with the four Ohio Senate candidates comes a month after Trump declared his loyalty to the GOP in remarks delivered at CPAC. Trump’s speech, which featured a rerun of his grievances, also called on his supporters to “get rid of them all,” referring to congressional Republicans who dared to buck him by voting for his impeachment in the aftermath of the deadly Capitol insurrection he incited earlier this year.
Trump also urged CPAC attendees to donate only through his political action committee and website. Less than two weeks after his CPAC appearance, Trump waged a war with the GOP’s traditional fundraising arm by sending cease-and-desist letters to the NRSC as well the Republican National Committee (RNC) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) — likely as a way to consolidate his massive influence on the party.
Earlier this month. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the NRSC, dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago to make nice after the former president demanded the GOP groups stop using his name and image for their fundraising efforts.
On Thursday, Axios reported that the NRSC is spending $1 million on an ad campaign targeting Democrats’ voting rights bill known as the “For the People Act,” an 800-page bill meant to expand and federally standardize voting rights.