National News

Trump, Doling Out Endorsements, Embraces Former Critic in Alabama Race

Posted June 22, 2018 1:34 p.m. EDT
Updated June 22, 2018 1:39 p.m. EDT

President Donald Trump moved Friday to leave an even deeper mark on Republican primary season, boosting a personal ally who is running for governor of Florida and extending political clemency to a former critic, Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, who is in a difficult race for re-election.

Roby has faced criticism from the right since withdrawing her endorsement of Trump in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential election, after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording that showed Trump boasting about groping women. Alabama Republicans declined to re-nominate her in a primary election earlier this month, forcing her instead into a July 17 runoff vote.

Trump is not known for showing mercy toward political detractors, but he gave Roby his stamp of approval Friday morning, tweeting that she had been a “consistent and reliable vote for our Make America Great Again Agenda.” And he took aim at Roby’s challenger, Bobby Bright, a former Democratic member of Congress who switched parties to run against her.

“She is in a Republican Primary runoff against a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat,” Trump said. I fully endorse Martha for Alabama 2nd Congressional District!”

Roby has tried for more than a year to smooth over her relationship with Trump, and Republican congressional leaders had appealed to the White House for help even earlier in her fight for re-election. A mainstream conservative from the state’s Southeast corner, Roby is one of only a handful of Republican women serving in the House, a number of whom are retiring or seeking statewide office.

House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Vice President Mike Pence to endorse Roby before her primary earlier this month, but Pence was uneasy about backing her candidacy without the president’s full embrace of her candidacy. Earlier this year, the vice president endorsed a House candidate in Texas whom Trump had not publicly supported, irritating White House officials; the situation with Roby was even more delicate because of her past criticism of the president. (The candidate in Texas, Bunni Pounds, failed to win the nomination).

Less welcome to traditional party leaders, however, might be Trump’s emphatic endorsement in the Republican race for governor of Florida. The president reiterated his support for Rep. Ron DeSantis, a conservative lawmaker who frequently defends him on Fox News, and who is viewed with skepticism by party leaders in his state.

DeSantis is in a competitive primary with Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and himself a former congressman, and much of the state Republican establishment has lined up behind Putnam. After Trump praised DeSantis in a December tweet, Republicans including Pence sought to dissuade the president from inserting himself any further into the race.

But Trump left no doubt about his affections in the race, tweeting Friday that DeSantis had his “full Endorsement!”

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida,” Trump wrote. “Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes - Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!”

While Roby’s district is unlikely to feature a close race in the general election, the campaign for Florida governor could be one of the most intensely contested statewide elections of 2018. Some Florida Republican leaders had expressed concern to the White House that DeSantis has taken votes, affecting popular programs like Medicare, that could hobble him in November.

But whatever daylight still exists between Trump and other Republicans about the race, he and Pence are on the same page: Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, said Friday that he was supportive of the president’s endorsement.

Trump’s endorsements come at a time of seemingly renewed confidence for the president in weighing in on Republican primary elections. Trump had shied away for a time from meddling in nomination fights, feeling embarrassed after campaigning in special elections in Alabama and Pennsylvania, only to see his chosen candidates lose.

But Trump has abandoned that restraint in recent days, and last week he sided against Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a dissident Republican, in a primary that Sanford lost. Next week he is going to gamble that his popularity with conservative activists is enough to help put Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina over the top: Trump is set to campaign Monday with McMaster outside Columbia, South Carolina.

The governor, one of the earliest elected officials to endorse Trump’s candidacy, failed to reach a majority in a primary earlier this month and is facing a competitive runoff Tuesday against a conservative political newcomer.