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Trump Backs Off ‘Presumptive Nominee’ RNC Pressure Campaign
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Trump Backs Off ‘Presumptive Nominee’ RNC Pressure Campaign

Plus: Kari Lake incident causes shakeup in Arizona GOP leadership.

Happy Friday! It’s almost a shame there’s no Republican primary coming up this Tuesday—the pace of Iowa and New Hampshire has us hooked on new developments.

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden notched the endorsement of the United Auto Workers union at a Wednesday event in Washington, with UAW President Shawn Fain praising Biden’s decision to join a picket line during last summer’s auto-workers strike. “Instead of talking trash about our union, Joe Biden stood with us,” Fain said. He added, “Donald Trump stands against everything we stand for as a society.” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung told Reuters in response to the news that “President Trump represents the working men and women of America, and his America First policies helped protect American jobs from being either shipped away or terminated.” Other prominent labor unions, like the Teamsters, have yet to endorse a candidate for 2024; Teamsters president Sean O’Brien met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
  • In recent days, the Biden campaign has dialed up its mockery of Donald Trump’s supposed mental lapses on the campaign trail—an attempt to counterprogram the attacks on Biden’s age and mental acuity that Trump and his allies have been making for years. This week, the campaign’s “Biden-Harris HQ” page spotlighted clips in which Trump appeared to get lost in his teleprompter while speaking in New Hampshire—“We are an institute in a powerful death penalty,” Trump said—and seemed to mix up Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing his presidential rival of being responsible for Capitol security during the January 6, 2021, riot.
  • Trump issued a threat to Nikki Haley’s campaign donors Wednesday night, saying in a social media post that “anybody that makes a ‘Contribution’ to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp.” Haley immediately turned the threat into a fundraising pitch, adding a T-shirt saying “BARRED. PERMANENTLY.” to her online campaign store. Her campaign said it raised more than $1.2 million from small-dollar donors immediately following Trump’s threat. (For more on Haley from South Carolina, check out John McCormack’s piece up on the site today.)
  • Nikki Haley is also nudging her messaging to the right as she turns from largely independent New Hampshire to very conservative South Carolina, whose primary is under a month away. “Trump says I’m not conservative. That makes me laugh,” she tweeted Thursday. “I’m a Tea Party governor. I took on the establishment in South Carolina. That’s why they didn’t like me very much. But I don’t care if the swamp likes me. I’m fighting for YOU.” Haley also released a new ad touting her successes as governor on issues like illegal immigration and resurfacing old plaudits from Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. “Some of the good ol’ boys, maybe they don’t like her too much,” Palin said in the ad. “She stands up for conservative principles and she doesn’t back down from a challenge.”

After ‘Presumptive Nominee’ RNC Pressure Campaign, Trump Changes Course and Haley Capitalizes 

Former President Trump delivers remarks in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Former President Trump delivers remarks in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Donald Trump was forced late Thursday to relax his pressure campaign to drive Nikki Haley from the Republican presidential primary because of blowback from a draft Republican National Committee resolution that, had it been voted on and passed, would have declared the former president the GOP’s presumptive 2024 nominee, despite the fact that only two states have thus far held nominating contests.

News of the proposal from David Bossie, an RNC committeeman from Maryland and staunch Trump ally, was first reported by The Dispatch early Thursday afternoon. And as National Review’s Audrey Fahlberg reported, Bossie’s proposal was interpreted by some voting members of the RNC as an attempt to push Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel into rallying “behind Trump and explicitly” calling for Haley to end her campaign. But just hours later, the former president announced his opposition to the resolution. 

“While I greatly appreciate the Republican National Committee (RNC) wanting to make me their PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE, and while I have far more votes than necessary to do it, I feel, for the sake of PARTY UNITY, that they should NOT go forward with this plan, but that I should do it the ‘Old Fashioned’ way, and finish the process off AT THE BALLOT BOX,” Trump said in a post on his site Truth Social. “Thank you to the RNC for the Respect and Devotion you have shown me! Trump2024.” 

Later in the evening, several media outlets were reporting the RNC had pulled the draft resolution from consideration. Should this development stick—and sources tell us it will because of internal resistance—the proposal would not receive a vote during next week’s scheduled RNC winter business meeting in Las Vegas. 

Trump is the overwhelming favorite to capture the Republican presidential nomination after winning this cycle’s Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. That Haley has refused to exit the race despite her long odds, including in the upcoming February 24 primary in her home state of South Carolina, has frustrated Trump. He has publicly expressed dismay that the woman who served in his cabinet as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has not dropped out and endorsed him like the other Republicans he vanquished. 

To push Haley out, Trump has even threatened any Republican donor who finances her longshot campaign with excommunication, saying they will be blackballed in GOP circles. 

So Trump’s comments rejecting the RNC resolution to declare him the presumptive nominee, which might unlock all sorts of fundraising advantages for his presumed bid versus President Joe Biden, amounted to a rare retreat. As the presumptive nominee, Trump could sign a joint fundraising agreement with the RNC, unlocking much bigger checks from wealthy donors as allowable under federal law. (This astute observation was made by Puck’s Teddy Schleifer.) 

But the former president’s squeeze on Haley appeared to backfire, with Haley and her supporters digging in further. Since her second-place finish in New Hampshire, the Haley campaign says that $2.6 million in grassroots contributions have poured in, including $1.2 million that followed Trump’s warning to donors.

Additionally, sources tell The Dispatch that phones at SFA Inc, Haley’s super PAC, have been “ringing off the hook” with donors interested in contributing. This week, the group scheduled a $1 million statewide television advertising buy in South Carolina, where Haley served as governor but where Trump is heavily favored. Her campaign, however, seems to be reveling in running as an underdog challenging the establishment frontrunner.

“South Carolinians don’t want the DC swamp telling them what to do. They know this race is far from over! I’ve run against the establishment my entire career, and I’m ready to do it again,” Haley tweeted yesterday. In another post, Haley used Trump’s threat to retaliate against her donors to … encourage more donations.

Arizona GOP Melts Down Again Over Alleged ‘Bribe’ to Kari Lake

When Jeff DeWit took over as chair of the Arizona GOP last year, many Republicans in the state hoped he might be a bridge builder—the kind of guy up to the job of reuniting a party riven by a civil war between its former moderate establishment and the upstart MAGA faction that took it over in 2019.

Then he got crosswise of Kari Lake.

In an appearance last March at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Lake—the Donald Trump acolyte, failed 2022 gubernatorial candidate, and now presumptive Senate nominee—said a prominent person had recently “tried to bribe [her] into getting out of politics.” This week, Lake’s team released an audio recording to the Daily Mail identifying that person as none other than DeWit.

“There are very powerful people who want to keep you out,” the party chair can be heard telling Lake in the recording, adding she should “take a pause for a couple of years” and run for governor again, not the U.S. Senate. “The ask I got today from back east was: ‘Is there any companies out there or something that could just put her on the payroll to keep her out?’”

In the recording, Lake icily rebuffed DeWit’s persistent suggestions. “I can’t be bought,” she said.

The release of the conversation—one that could hardly have done more to confirm Lake fans’ fears of shadowy backroom opposition to her brand of politics if it had been scripted—went off like a bomb in Arizona politics. It’s unclear why Lake waited so long to release the audio, but it seemed timed to place maximum pressure on DeWit ahead of a party-business meeting this weekend. Less than a day later, DeWit announced he would resign as chair.

“Since our conversation where I advised Lake to postpone her campaign and aim for the governor’s position in two years, she has been on a mission to destroy me,” DeWit said in a statement. “It was a suggestion made in good faith, believing it could benefit both her future prospects and the party’s overall strategy. The release of our conversation by Lake confirms a disturbing tendency to exploit private interactions for personal gain and increases concerns about her habit of secretly recording personal and private conversations.”

Former first vice chair Jill Norgaard was sworn in Thursday as DeWit’s interim replacement. The party also pulled the plug on its public “America Fest” event, formerly scheduled for this weekend.

The blowup made it clearer than ever that Lake, despite her 2022 gubernatorial loss to Democrat Katie Hobbs, remains the top dog in Arizona Republican politics, and gave her a round of splashy MAGA-friendly headlines just as Donald Trump’s veepstakes are starting to heat up. But Republican observers fretted that the affair threatened to drive the fragile party into still deeper chaos, predicting it was likely to head into the November elections largely paralyzed.

“No money. No organization. No coordination with candidates. And finally, no money,” Republican strategist Barrett Marson told The Dispatch of what’s on the horizon for the state GOP following the shakeup. 

Notable and Quotable 

“I know that’s what he does when he’s insecure. I know that’s what he does when he is threatened. And he should feel threatened, without a doubt.”

—Nikki Haley on Donald Trump’s ramped-up attacks on her candidacy, January 24, 2024

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.