WASHINGTON — The defiant far-right acolytes of former president Donald Trump in the House Republican caucus have embarked on a targeted campaign ahead of the midterm elections to expand their ranks — and extend their power — on Capitol Hill.
The effort, backed and guided by House members such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican from Georgia, and Madison Cawthorn, Republican from North Carolina, is part of a broader push by followers of the ‘’Make America Great Again’' movement to purge the GOP of those not deemed loyal to the former president and his false claims that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden.
Former Army Green Beret Joe Kent is running for a US House seat in Washington state held by another Republican, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump over his role in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
Kent said he has little interest in fighting with Democrats if he makes it to Congress. Instead, he wants to force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump.
‘’A lot of it will be shaming Republicans,’’ Kent said. ‘’I need to be going after the people in the Republican Party who want to go back to go-along-to-get-along. It’s put up or shut up.’’
The goal, organizers of the effort say, is to supersize the MAGA group in the House from its current loose membership of about a half-dozen — and give it the heft that, combined with its close alliance with Trump, would put it in a position to wield significant influence should Republicans win the House majority.
Key to the strategy is to coalesce MAGA-movement support around certain candidates running in Republican primaries in heavily pro-Trump congressional districts where the primary victor is all but assured to win the seat in November. That effort is being bolstered by redistricting, as state lawmakers draw districts even more partisan than the current lines.
In 2020, Trump won 45 districts by more than 15 percentage points. Under new maps already finalized in more than a dozen states, he would have won 78 districts by that margin, according to a Washington Post analysis.
‘’We should be gaining MAGA seats,’’ Boris Epshteyn, a Trump ally, said on a recent episode of the radio show hosted by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. ‘’It’s not just about ‘let’s add some Republican seats,’ it’s about ‘let’s add MAGA strongholds.’ ‘’
Trump critics warn that a stronger MAGA wing in Congress threatens democracy.
‘’We’re looking at a nihilistic Mad Max hellscape. It will be all about the show of 2024 to bring Donald Trump back into power . . . They will impeach Biden, they will impeach Harris, they will kill everything,’’ said Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist who is sharply critical of Trump.
Trump has taken an active role in selecting candidates, so far doling out dozens of endorsements, and many of the candidates, like Kent, are challenging incumbents in GOP primaries for state and federal positions. For the 2022 House races, Trump has already thrown his support behind more than two dozen Republicans, including five running against Republican incumbents.
Candidates seeking his approval meet with him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where he peppers them with questions that test their MAGA bona fides. A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Patrick Witt is a former Yale quarterback running for Georgia’s 10th Congressional District seat against a Republican who formerly held the seat, and he visited Trump recently. So did Bo Hines, 26, who also played football at Yale and is running for a still-to-be-determined seat in North Carolina.
The emerging candidates — some former collegiate athletes and military veterans, telegenic and mostly, White male millennials — have benefited from publicity from Bannon and the fund-raising prowess and endorsements of the alliance of Republican House members who have cast themselves in Trump’s image, including Greene, Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.
Over the summer, Greene and Gaetz went on the road together, holding ‘’America First’' rallies in various states, dishing out applause lines about the election being stolen and Trump running in 2024.
Last month, the duo planned to attend an event for Graham Allen, an Army veteran and conservative podcast host running in South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District against Republican Representative Tom Rice, who voted to impeach Trump. When they had to cancel their appearance to vote against Biden’s infrastructure package, they sent a video message.
‘’We need him here. He’s the exact type of Republican we need that won’t cower, won’t fall in line to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and will stop the radical Democrats from destroying our great country,’’ Greene said in the video, aiming at two Republican House members who are among Trump’s most fervent critics.
Trump seeks to dismiss suit brought by Capitol officers
Former president Donald Trump is seeking dismissal of a suit accusing him of sparking the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, arguing that speakers at political rallies don’t have a “legally enforceable duty of care” to adversaries or others “who might find themselves in the path of impassioned supporters.”
Trump, sued in August by eight Capitol Police officers who claim they were assaulted that day, argued in a court filing that the lawsuit should be tossed out because Trump isn’t “vicariously liable” for the actions of people who heard him speak at a “Stop the Steal” rally before the siege.
“Speakers at political rallies do not owe a duty of care to members of Congress or Capitol Police Officers not at the rally,” Trump’s lawyer Jesse Binnall said in the Dec. 24 filing in federal court in Washington.
Trump, who continues to claim the 2020 presidential election was stolen by corrupt Democrats, argued in the filing that his remarks near the White House were in line with a president’s right to “take advantage of the bully pulpit.” It’s one of several suits Trump faces for allegedly inciting the riot.
The complaint, which also names right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, alleges many of the defendants “planned, aided, and actively participated in that attack” and that “all defendants are responsible for it.” The officers also claim the plot was steeped in “racism and white supremacy.”
Trump argued in the filing that he “acted responsibly” during the speech, and that he had “simply called for peaceful and patriotic demonstrations.” Trump also denies that he was threatening violence when he said it was “a very dangerous moment in our history” and that people are “not going to stand having this election stolen from them.”
“Under no stretch of the imagination can those statements be characterized as open threats of violence,” he said in the filing.