WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump, again upending American political norms, is moving to remake Congress and the Republican Party in his own image.
Since leaving the White House, he has issued a spate of endorsements of House and Senate candidates for next year’s crucial midterm election, including an array of political outsiders, conspiracy theorists and others who — like Trump himself — break the traditional mold.
While most former presidents have steered clear of politics, Trump is intervening in Republican primaries like an old-style ward boss: rewarding allies, punishing enemies and trying to use his vast popularity among Republican voters to keep himself and his agenda at the center of the GOP.
Targeting one of his most prominent Republican critics, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Trump plans to meet this week at his New Jersey golf club with Wyoming Republicans who are running against her. His goal: to endorse one, clear the field of others and set up a head-to-head contest.
But Trump’s heavy hand in GOP primaries carries risks for his party. Some Republicans fear that some of his endorsements — those based not on electability but on candidates’ loyalty to him and his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen — could make it harder for the party to win in swing states.
“If we as Republicans continue to relitigate a past lost election, we will not position ourselves to win in the midterms,” said John Watson, former Georgia Republican Party chairman. “We have the issues on our side if we will just get out of our own way.”
A former NFL star Trump is promoting for a potential Senate run in Georgia — Herschel Walker — is beloved in the state where he started his career as a Heisman Trophy winner. But he is an untested political novice, and it’s been decades since he lived in Georgia.
In North Carolina, Trump is backing Rep. Ted Budd to replace the state’s retiring Republican senator. Budd, a gun store owner, is an ardent defender of the former president but has trailed in early polling and fundraising.
In Arizona, many Republicans believe Gov. Doug Ducey would be the best candidate against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. But Ducey, who has been pummeled by Trump for not doing more to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, has said he won’t run.
Trump derided him on Ducey’s own turf Saturday, recalling in a Phoenix speech his reaction to Ducey’s possible candidacy. Trump said he was asked, “Sir, would you like him to run for the Senate?” and replied, “He’s not getting my endorsement, I can tell you.”