Political

Trump looks to boost former administration officials in 2022 midterms

James Devaney/GC ImagesBy WILL STEAKIN and LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — As former President Donald Trump continues to plot his post-White House political course, he has begun promoting a new class of former Trump administration officials to lead a potential fresh wave of MAGA loyalists into the 2022 midterm elections.

Call them the Trump Slate: former political aides in the Trump administration who are now running for office on their own, seeking to benefit from the former president’s durable brand and fundraising muscle.

They include well-known figures like Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas, and lesser-known political newcomers like Max Miller in Ohio, Catalina Lauf in Illinois, and Brian Harrison in Texas.

Trump has yet to formally endorse the whole group of former administration officials, but he’s already offering his support to some 2022 candidates to keep a grip on the GOP and deliver a dose of retribution to Republicans who he believes have wronged him, experts say.

“It’s more about trying to push out those who he feels weren’t nice to him,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. Heye boiled Trump’s 2022 ambitions down to just a few personal goals: grabbing attention, seeking revenge, and ensuring his grip on the Republican Party.

For many candidates, the path into the 2022 campaign begins at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where fledgling candidates are courting his support while also spending hefty sums of campaign money to host lavish fundraisers at his property.

Trump’s latest visitor on Wednesday night was former Trump aide Max Miller, 32, a candidate for an Ohio House seat. Miller held his first Florida fundraiser at Trump’s resort in West Palm Beach. Miller, who worked on Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, served in the Presidential Personnel Office and was later director of advance, tasked with organizing Trump’s rallies.

Admission to Wednesday’s event, which boasted an appearance by Trump himself in which he touted Miller in a roughly ten-minute speech, was $5,800 per person or $11,600 per couple, according to an invite first reported on by Punchbowl News. Roughly 50 people attended, sources tell ABC News.

Around Miller’s event, Trump had a pull-aside with four Senate primary contenders — Jane Timken, Josh Mandel, Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno — who are seeking Trump’s endorsement as they vie for retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Ohio seat, according to sources. In the meeting, Trump cornered Timken on past statements supporting Gonzalez and for failing to censure Gonzalez while she was Ohio Republican Party Chair, sources said. Trump also questioned Mandel for dropping out of a past Senate race, per sources. All four candidates paid for tickets to Miller’s event.

While campaigns have not yet had to disclose their spending in the first few months of the year, these events are certain to generate revenue for the former president’s business. Spending by various campaigns hosting events at the club can soar into six figures, according to records from past events in recent years.

Over the last four years, campaigns and political groups have together spent at least $12 million at various Trump properties, including more than $9 million spent by Trump’s own presidential campaign, the RNC, and their shared fundraising committees.

Trump has made it clear that one of his main goals for the 2022 midterms is to target the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him in January. Miller, for instance, is running against one of those House members, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

Trump, who announced his support of Miller last month, spent part of his endorsement blasting the incumbent Republican as someone who “should not be representing the people of the 16th District because he does not represent their interest or their heart.”

Trump’s stamp of approval can provide candidates a substantial boost. In her bid for Arkansas governor, Sanders, who was publicly encouraged by Trump to run, raised $1 million in the first four days of her campaign, her campaign has said.

Sanders’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from ABC News.

Other pro-Trump candidates running in 2022 are still courting the former president’s blessing.

“It would be an honor,” Catalina Lauf, 27, who was appointed by Trump to serve in the Department of Commerce in 2018 and served for about eight months, said when asked what a Trump endorsement would mean to her campaign. “It’s something that carries a lot of weight.”

Lauf, who touted her experience in the Trump administration as preparation for her 2022 run, is also seeking to oust one of the House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president, Trump antagonist Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Lauf ran for a seat in the 14th Congressional District last year but lost in the Republican primary. This year, she was spotted at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in March. She would not comment on any discussions with the former president.

Another former Trump official gunning for the former president’s backing is Brian Harrison, the chief of staff of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) during the Trump administration. He announced in February that he’s running to succeed the late Republican Rep. Ron Wright of Texas.

Harrison’s campaign told ABC News he is “running on the ‘America First’ agenda.”

Harrison enters a crowded primary field that includes Rep. Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, a GOP activist who says she’s running to continue the legacy of her husband — a strong supporter of Trump’s who voted to overturn the 2020 election results.

ABC News’ Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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