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Former Trump officials eye bids for political office

The Hill logo The Hill 1 day ago Jonathan Easley
Corinna Schumacher, Richard Grenell are posing for a picture: Photo of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kenneth Braithwaite and Richard Grenell © Getty Images Photo of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kenneth Braithwaite and Richard Grenell

Former Trump administration officials are testing the waters for political office, underscoring the former president's lasting influence on the Republican Party as it searches for a post-Trump identity.

Cliff Sims, the former deputy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) who is close with several Trump family members, is seriously considering getting into the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Trump's former ambassador to Slovenia, Lynda Blanchard, a top Trump donor, has already entered that primary as a "proud member of the MAGA movement."

In Pennsylvania, where Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is retiring, Trump's Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite and his ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, are both weighing bids.

Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is being encouraged by Trump allies to run for governor of California if Gavin Newsom is recalled. Former White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders is already running for governor of Arkansas, where term-limited Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has emerged as an outspoken Trump critic.

The jockeying is also playing out in House races, with Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson having been approached about running to replace the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas) and former White House aide Max Miller is preparing a primary challenge against Rep. Anthony Gonzales (R-Ohio), who voted to impeach Trump.

Republicans say the maneuvering among Trump's allies is indicative of the former president's continuing popularity with grassroots conservatives who are eager for the next wave of leaders to take up his mantle.

"It's still Trump's party and he may actually have gained in popularity [with the GOP base] since impeachment," said former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). "Many Trump supporters felt everyone was against him from the beginning when he was coming down the escalator and it hasn't stopped since he left office. If the Democratic goal was to disqualify him, they may have just made him larger."

In deep-red Alabama, the race to replace Shelby could turn on which candidate is seen as the closest to Trump.

Sources tell The Hill that Sims, the former White House aide who also spent time at ODNI, is seriously weighing a bid.

Sims appeared to have a brief falling out with Trump after the release of his best-selling book "Team of Vipers," which was unsparing in its critique of several White House officials working under Trump.

But Sims is close with Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. After his White House stint, he was brought on by the Republican National Committee to oversee speechwriting at the 2020 convention before moving to his post at ODNI under then-director John Ratcliffe.

"Cliff has a keen understanding of important national security issues like the rise of China and he's a true believer in the conservative America First movement," Ratcliffe said in a statement to The Hill. "Most importantly though, Cliff has a servant's heart and if he decides to run, I'm confident that no one would fight harder for the people of Alabama."

Blanchard, the Trump donor and former ambassador to Slovenia, got an early jump on the field, releasing a video announcement pledging she would carry on Trump's legacy.

"We will give the swamp a heckuva dose of the common sense and conservative principle that it needs to truly make America great again - just like President Trump did," Blanchard said.

It's lining up to be a staunch pro-Trump field throughout, with Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), as well as businesswomen Jessica Taylor and Katie Boyd Britt, believed to be considering bids.

"Trump has a 90 percent favorability rating in Alabama. If you're running in a Republican primary here, why would you not get as close to him as possible?" said Brent Buchanan, a veteran GOP operative from Alabama. "The challenge becomes when you have four people in the race identifying as MAGA members. The other component is going to be what fundraising looks like in that scenario."

In Pennsylvania, Trump-aligned Republicans are lining up to replace Toomey, who infuriated some conservatives in his home state by voting to convict Trump for inciting a riot.

Braithwaite, the former Navy secretary under Trump, is expected to run.

A spokesperson for Sands, a businesswoman and former ambassador to Denmark who moved to Pennsylvania last year, said she's looking at running "because our country is on the wrong track."

Army veteran Sean Parnell, who is close with Donald Trump Jr., could also get in the race.

"Trump is very popular among Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania," said Barletta. "I believe it would be very difficult for those who oppose Trump and his policies to win a primary here."

Trump's allies, including Fox News host Sean Hannity and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), have publicly advocated for Grenell, the former ambassador to Germany and acting DNI, to run for governor of California if Newsom is recalled.

Sources say Grenell is considering it, although he acknowledged on Hannity's show earlier this month that any Republican running for statewide office in California is "going to have a real tough time."

Hannity himself has long been rumored to be considering a run for office in New York, while another ally of the former president, fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson, is getting some buzz to run for the White House in 2024.

In Arkansas, Sanders, a former White House press secretary under Trump, is the front-runner since launching her bid for the governor's mansion with Trump's support. That's in contrast to the current governor Hutchinson, who has been making the rounds urging the GOP to move on from Trump.

In Ohio's 16th Congressional District, Miller, the former White House and campaign aide, is said to be looking at a primary challenge against Gonzalez, a two-term lawmaker. Miller could be one of several challengers to the 10 House members that voted to impeach Trump.

Pierson, who was with the Trump campaign from the start in 2016, has heard from Texas Republicans and Trump allies encouraging her to run to replace Ron Wright, the longtime Dallas-area House member who died of lung cancer earlier this month. Sources say she's seriously considering it.

"Trump is going to be relevant everywhere across the country in Republican primaries," said Buchanan. "The president has an incredibly loyal base."

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