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Republicans brace for next round of Trump primary chaos

State party officials and other members of the GOP in Nevada, Wisconsin and Missouri say they’re concerned about coming contests and the effects of Trump’s 2020 fixation.
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Candidates have pleaded for his backing for months. 

But as the next round of midterm primaries nears, a growing number of Republicans have admitted they've developed an acute case of Donald Trump fatigue. 

They’re tired of looking backward at 2020. They’re tired of playing the fealty game. They’re tired of him claiming credit for their victories. 

And according to more than a dozen battleground state Republican party officials, analysts and rank-and-file GOP members, they’re tired of the chaos he unleashes in their elections. 

Above all, they dread the turmoil he threatens to inject this fall with his penchant for prizing unswerving loyalty to him over electability.  

Image: Donald Trump
Then President Donald Trump gestures during a rally at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wisc., on Oct. 17, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images file

“I wish Trump would sit down and keep quiet. I think the country’s had enough of him,” said Perry DiLoreto, a prominent Nevada businessman and longtime GOP donor who backed Trump in 2016 and 2020. 

In the state’s upcoming GOP primary for Senate, he ignored Trump’s endorsement of former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt and instead supported retired Army Capt. Sam Brown. 

“Donald Trump was a great example of somebody that had some good ideas and had good common sense. But to move any of those ideas forward, you have to know how to have civil dialogue with people,” DiLoreto said.

Republicans in states like Nevada, Missouri and Wisconsin are airing their frustrations as they brace for primaries that could play a heavy hand in the fate of governor races or ultimately Senate control in November. Republicans in these states say they are increasingly turned off by Trump’s fixation on the unfounded contention that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, particularly since changes in voting laws have already played out in many states. 

Their grumbling comes on the heels of a blowout loss of Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate David Perdue in Georgia — he lost by 50 points – only for Trump to push voter fraud conspiracy claims afterward. And it comes after the messy results in the Pennsylvania Senate primary, where Mehmet Oz and David McCormick went into overtime amid the narrowest of Oz leads. This again had Trump, who endorsed Oz, crying foul over ballot counting. (McCormick conceded on Friday.) Trump also backed far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the governor’s contest, who went on to win, prompting an eruption within the state’s GOP that now fears it could lose a once competitive governor’s mansion in the fall.    

The seesaw of emotions Republicans are expressing comes as more of the party rank and file members — who still adoringly back Trump and his politics  — show signs that they're open to new faces in the party to run for president in 2024. 

The dynamics in Nevada are complicated. Trump endorsed Laxalt, his 2020 presidential campaign co-chair in the state, last August. It was then an easy call — the former statewide office holder had superior name recognition, and he was among Trump’s go-to state officials to challenge the presidential contest results in 2020. Since then, Laxalt’s Senate campaign has leaned heavily on the Trump endorsement, promoting it in ads and public appearances. 

Brown, the underdog candidate DiLoreto backed in the contest on June 14, has recently seen an uptick in the upcoming primary that points to the kind of GOP fracturing transpiring across the country. Brown swept the straw polls of the state’s Republican Party, of Clark County — the most populous in Nevada — as well as of Carson City Republicans. Gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert also won the Nevada GOP state party straw poll, besting Trump’s choice, Joe Lombardo. The informal party voting is often viewed as a sign of grassroots support.  

“Trump fatigue is all over the place. It’s among committee people and especially elected officials,” said a GOP party official who has been involved in multiple campaigns who asked not to be named out of fear of Trump’s reprisal. 

Part of the frustration is that there is no single path to Trump’s blessing. Candidates attempt to go through a process of obtaining the coveted endorsement only to risk getting outflanked — “Corey Lewandowski parachutes in with someone and Trump endorses on a whim,” said the official, referring to Trump’s former campaign manager who remains an informal adviser to the former president. 

The person said there had been some prospective candidates who declined to run at all, saying, “‘I’m not going to spend a year campaigning, raising money only for the last week of the campaign him to decide he doesn’t like my golf swing and endorses my opponent.’”

Wisconsin Republicans are experiencing a similar split. GOP members on the ground aren’t as uniformly swayed by Trump as they were in 2020, said Andrew Hitt, former state Republican Party chair in Wisconsin. 

In a recent Wisconsin straw poll, it was not Trump but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who won out as the presidential candidate who Republicans preferred in 2024. In that same straw poll, Trump could not even win a majority of Wisconsin Republicans who said they wanted him to run for president again. 

Hitt said in 2020 he saw solidarity across the party. Today, he’s seeing far more fracturing in the key presidential battleground state, a dynamic that could jeopardize the party’s ability to flip the governor’s mansion this fall and turn Wisconsin red in 2024. 

“It’s not one thing. It’s some folks wanting to find a new candidate [in 2024]. Some folks think he can’t win. Some folks are upset about January 6, and some folks are upset that we’re still talking about 2020,” Hitt said. “You put all of those things together and it’s leading to more folks wanting to move on.”  

Still, that didn’t stop three of the four GOP candidates running for the chance to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from traveling to Mar-a-Lago to seek Trump’s endorsement. 

Scott Walker, a onetime Trump ally, told NBC News in a recent interview that he'd prefer it if Trump had stayed out of that primary, arguing that the three candidates who were polling the strongest had equally expressed their loyalty to the former president. Walker, who supports former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said he sent Trump a note touting Kleefisch, whom he saw as the most qualified, but he had another suggestion: consider not endorsing at all. 

“My big ask was not so much about endorsement. I was just saying I’m 100 percent behind her, here’s why, but I think it probably makes sense not to get engaged,” Walker said. 

Last week Trump backed millionaire businessman Tim Michels, who had supported the Trump administration and poured money into the race, anyway.

“President Trump is the single biggest factor of any Republican primary,” said Chris Walker, a Michels adviser. “This was an endorsement that every Republican campaign was trying to get.” 

In some cases — like Missouri’s GOP Senate primary — Trump is threatening to unnecessarily put into play what could be a solidly red contest, said Elijah Haahr, a Republican former speaker of Missouri’s state House. 

Haahr said Republicans on the ground fear that Trump is close to backing Eric Greitens, who has attracted the endorsement of such Trump allies as Kimberly Guilfoyle, who's engaged to Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and served as a top fundraising official for Trump’s re-election bid. 

Greitens, the onetime Missouri governor who resigned in 2018 amid criminal and ethics investigations, carries the kind of baggage that could blow up and harm Republicans’ chances in the general election, Haahr said. Last March, Greitens’ ex-wife alleged in court documents that he abused her and their young son — accusations Greitens said were "fabricated."

“Most people think that if Trump decided to endorse Eric, it probably means he will be the nominee. And that creates a challenge for the Republican Party,” which needs to focus on statewide and legislative races, Haahr said. Every other candidate in the race will win running away in the general, except for Eric Greitens.” 

In a statement, Greitens called Trump's endorsement "the single, most powerful asset in the history of politics."

"These establishment RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] should stop trying to downplay President Trump’s immense influence and, instead, work with him to advance the America First agenda,” he continued.

Danette Proctor, chair of the Greene County Republican Central Committee in Missouri, said there’s no doubt Trump’s endorsement would make a difference in competitive primary races. 

At the same time, she said Trump doesn’t have the same universal strength that he did in 2020. 

“His demeanor hurt him,” she said, and added that his fixation on the 2020 race is wearing on the rank and file. “We all loved his politics and how he’s a great businessman,” Proctor said. “People are appreciative for what he did — but it’s time to move on.”