Top Republican warns ‘hardcore’ pro-Trump candidates risk hurting party

Republican senator Pat Toomey has warned against nominating Donald Trump loyalists in upcoming primary elections, speaking in a wide-ranging interview ahead of Trump’s first post-presidency rally this weekend.

Toomey cautioned that following Trump’s lead could damage his party’s chances at the ballot box in next year’s midterm election, when control of both chambers of Congress and dozens of governors’ mansions will be up for grabs. He has represented Pennsylvania since 2010 but will not seek re-election next year.

“If [Trump] endorses candidates based on their loyalty to him, who are not strong candidates in their own right, then we could have an election in 2022 that goes worse than it should,” Toomey, a former derivatives trader and the most senior Republican on the powerful Senate banking committee, told the Financial Times. “Of course that will then reflect very badly on him, too, won’t it?”

Toomey’s warning came ahead of a rally Trump has planned on Saturday night across the Pennsylvania border in Ohio. The former president will headline an event in the small town of Wellington sponsored by his “Save America” political action committee.

Trump is campaigning there for Max Miller, one of his former advisers who launched a primary challenge against Republican congressman Anthony Gonzalez. Trump endorsed Miller, calling him a “true patriot”, while saying that Gonzalez “should not be representing the people of the 16th district because he does not represent their interest or their heart”.

Gonzalez was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his actions on January 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Trump has not ruled out running for office again in 2024.

“If it turns out that the hardcore pro-Trump candidates who were endorsed by Trump underperform in general elections, well, that is a pretty powerful lesson that the party will learn the hard way,” Toomey said.

The Republican party is divided over how to move forward with Trump no longer in the White House. Toomey was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial. Toomey told the FT that Trump was a “flawed character” who “went completely off the rails” after November’s election. But he insisted he remains optimistic about his party’s future.

“We are going through a challenging period. But I think where we are going to end up is . . . [with] a Republican consensus . . . that looks back and says, you know, the Trump presidency had a lot of very important accomplishments, like the best economy of our lifetimes.

“I am hoping to get to the point where we say, OK, we had this very flawed character. But when he was implementing Republican orthodoxy it worked out very well,” Toomey added, citing tax reform and deregulation as examples. “When the party can get to the point where we can acknowledge that, and I think we will . . . then I think the party is going to be fine.”

Toomey surprised many in Washington when he announced in October that he would not seek re-election or pursue the governorship in Pennsylvania. His decision — which he has insisted was a personal, rather than political, choice — set the stage for an electoral battle.

Biden won Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, in last year’s presidential election, raising Democrats’ hopes that they might be able to take back Toomey’s seat in next year’s midterms. Eight Democrats — including lieutenant-governor John Fetterman and state representative Malcolm Kenyatta — have declared their candidacy, as have five Republicans.

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