Eric Bolling won’t run for Congress

Conservative TV host Eric Bolling has ruled out waging a primary challenge to GOP Rep. Nancy Mace in South Carolina.

The former Fox News personality had been considering taking on Mace, who sharply criticized former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol. The freshman congresswoman is part of a group of House Republicans who Trump allies have accused of being disloyal to the former president.

But Bolling, who has long been close to Trump and interviewed him multiple times during his presidency, said in a Monday statement that was forgoing a run. He attributed the decision to a desire to focus on work projects, and he said the 2017 death of his son, which followed an accidental drug overdose, had weighed on him.

Bolling said that he’d “been absolutely inundated by people here in this district to run for” Mace’s Charleston-based seat.

“While it’s too soon after the passing of my son to get into politics, the overwhelming support I’ve received indicates this is not the end of my opportunities politically, in South Carolina,” he added. “While I am not planning to run for Congress in this cycle, it is clear to me that President Trump remains very strong in this district.”

Mace opposed Trump’s impeachment but hasn’t been shy to vocalize her disagreements with him. She has said that the former president put the lives of her and those at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “at risk” with his actions.

Bolling had also been regarded as a potential primary challenger to Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), who was one of 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. The congressman has drawn several Republican opponents, however.

The 58-year-old Bolling has flirted with running for office before. He moved to Charleston several years ago and weighed taking on GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, though he ultimately opted against it.

Bolling left Fox News in 2017 amid allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct, which he denied. He later joined the conservative Sinclair collection of broadcast TV stations, where he hosted “America This Week” until he departed in January. He has recently been hosting a podcast with pro football hall-of-famer Brett Favre.

Trump has been eager to back primary challenges to the Republican impeachment backers. He has endorsed Max Miller, a former White House aide, who has launched a primary challenge to Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who voted for impeachment. He has also vowed to campaign against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who supported Trump’s conviction.

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Trump aide preps primary against Ohio impeachment supporter

Former Trump White House aide Max Miller is expected to wage a primary challenge against GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, the latest opponent to take on a House Republican who supported the former president’s impeachment.

Miller, who hails from northeastern Ohio, has been in talks with top Republican donors in the state and other party leaders since leaving the White House last month, according to a person familiar with the plans. He recently purchased a house in Rocky River, inside Gonzalez’s 16th District.

The 10 House GOP members who supported impeachment in January are facing a barrage of criticism and primary threats from fellow Republicans. Gonzalez has been rebuked by several local GOP organizations, including the Medina County Republican Party, which censured the congressman, and the Strongsville GOP, which rescinded its endorsement of Gonzalez and has called on him to resign.

Former President Donald Trump and his orbit of political advisers and supporters are eager to oust the impeachment backers in 2022. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, an outspoken impeachment supporter, has already drawn several primary opponents, as has Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

Gonzalez, 36, was elected to Congress in 2018 with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups after the district’s former representative, Republican Jim Renacci, ran for Senate. The runner-up in the Republican primary that year, Christina Hagan, painted herself as more closely aligned with the former president and won endorsements from the likes of pro-Trump Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, but Gonzalez prevailed by a healthy margin.

But the intensity on the pro-Trump side could be higher in 2022 in the wake of the January impeachment vote. The 32-year-old Miller is a Trump loyalist, having served on his 2016 campaign before entering the White House. He became director of advance after serving in the office of presidential personnel. Miller, a Marine reservist, then joined the 2020 reelection campaign, where he served as deputy campaign manager for presidential operations.

The former Trump aide is from a prominent Cleveland family: Miller’s grandfather is the late real estate executive and philanthropist Sam Miller, who was a benefactor of an array of northeastern Ohio organizations and Jewish groups.

A person familiar with the planning for Miller’s expected campaign said that he’s received six figures in commitments from donors, but that he would have the personal resources to provide self-financing if necessary.

Gonzalez has stood by his impeachment vote, saying in a recent appearance on a conservative podcast that he had a “whole mountain of problems” with Trump’s effort to overturn the election results and that during the Jan. 6 storming of the capitol by pro-Trump rioters, “the president didn’t step up in my opinion in nearly the right way, to stop it.”

But Gonzalez, a former football player for Ohio State University and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, acknowledged that he could have jeopardized his reelection hopes.

“You have to love your country and you have to adhere to your oath more strongly than you do your job, and I don't know what political fate will play out,” Gonzalez said. “If my fate is ultimately that I don't get to come back, I will do that at peace.”

Miller would join an increasingly long list of former Trump administration officials who may run in 2022 races. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has jumped into the race for Arkansas governor and has received Trump’s endorsement.

Lynda Blanchard, a former Trump administration ambassador to Slovenia, is running for Alabama’s open Senate seat, and former White House official Cliff Sims is also considering getting into the contest. Carla Sands, who was ambassador to Denmark, is considering entering the race for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat.

Trump’s interest in ousting GOP critics extends to the Senate. His advisers have discussed supporting a challenge to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment and is facing reelection in 2022. But Alaska’s new open primary system may protect Murkowski, who has strong cross-party appeal in her state.

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Trump poll shows impeachment backlash hitting Cheney

Donald Trump’s political operation has commissioned a poll on Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s reelection prospects, part of an effort to punish the most high-profile Republican who supported impeaching the former president earlier this month.

The survey paints a bleak picture of Cheney’s political standing as she faces fierce backlash from Trump supporters over her impeachment vote, with House conservatives mounting an effort to oust her from party leadership, the Wyoming Republican Party condemning her, and primary challengers lining up.

According to a memo outlining the results, 73 percent of Republican voters and 62 percent of all voters in Wyoming expressed an unfavorable view of the three-term congresswoman. Just 10 percent of Republican primary voters and 13 percent of general election voters said they would vote to reelect her. The survey of 500 likely voters, which was conducted Jan. 25-26 by Trump pollster John McLaughlin, also presents Cheney as profoundly weak in a Republican primary. The congress member trails 54 percent to 21 percent in a head-to-head matchup against one of her announced opponents, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard.

“Liz Cheney’s decision to vote to impeach President Trump makes her extremely vulnerable,” McLaughlin writes to Jason Miller, the former president’s senior adviser, in a memo outlining the results. “It is evident her ratings are in bad shape among general election voters and have collapsed among Republicans and Trump voters.”

A Cheney spokesperson declined to comment.

The survey, which was paid for by Save America, Trump’s newly formed political action committee, is designed to embolden would-be primary challengers to the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment. Trump advisers say there is a deep desire to support Republican candidates looking to knock off those incumbents in next year’s primaries.

“The strong voter sentiment in this survey suggests there could be similar results for other Republicans who voted for impeachment,” McLaughlin writes in the memo.

In an implicit warning to the GOP impeachment supporters, as well as any Republican senator considering whether to convict the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection, the memo also touts Trump’s popularity in heavily Republican Wyoming since leaving office. The former president registers a 70 percent favorability rating in the state, the same share of the vote he received in the 2020 election. Among Republican voters, Trump has an 85 percent favorable figure.

Cheney delivered a scorching statement following the Jan. 6 riot, saying that as part of his effort to overturn the 2020 election results, Trump “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack." Cheney added that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the constitution.”

The poll also illustrated how a rush of primary challengers could ultimately end up playing into Cheney’s hands, creating a crowded field that would splinter the vote against her. Cheney performed slightly better when the poll tested a three-way Republican primary between Cheney, Bouchard and state Rep. Chuck Gray, a Republican who isn’t yet running. The survey showed Cheney and Gray at 19 percent and Bouchard at 29 percent.

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Two senators take extreme measures to show fealty to Trump

Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, a freshman senator up for reelection in November, launched a highly unusual new TV ad this week.

The content was standard, pro-Trump, anti-Democrat fare. What was very atypical was that it aired hundreds of miles from his home state, in Ohio.

As it turns out, the ad had nothing to do with Cotton’s current campaign, and everything to do with the one he’s eyeing four years from now — for the White House. He and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are running commercials aimed at raising their profiles in key electoral battlegrounds and — perhaps more important — ingratiating themselves with President Donald Trump and his supporters, who could prove critical in any future Republican presidential primary contest.

The twin offensives underscore how the 2024 Republican presidential primary is already underway even as Trump is battling for a second term. Republicans with future national aspirations are hitting early primary states, jockeying to win the favor of major donors, and auditioning before conservative activists.

Cotton has started running a hard-hitting spot in Ohio targeting Joe Biden over his policies toward China. He is expected to ramp it up even further with a forthcoming commercial assailing the former vice president for his criticism of Trump’s response to the coronavirus, which is thought to have originated in the country. Scott has run a pair of commercials, one in Iowa going after Biden on his family’s ties to Ukraine and the other in his home state, savaging Bernie Sanders for his past praise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Aside from getting Trump's back, Cotton and Scott are using the spots to introduce themselves to voters. Both appear prominently: While Scott is face-to-camera, Cotton’s features a side-by-side shot of him with the president. Cotton, an Iraq War veteran, is seen wearing combat uniform with a machine gun strapped to his chest.

In separate interviews, neither Scott nor Cotton explicitly denied interest in running for president in four years. They deflected questions about whether their efforts could help position them for presidential runs down the line, saying they were just interested in bolstering Trump.

Sen. Rick Scott

“We know that we’re a closely-divided country when it comes to politics,” Cotton said. “And any person that Democrats nominate, the president is going to take seriously [and] I personally take seriously.”

Cotton said he was considering expanding his advertising campaign to other battleground states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, which have lost manufacturing jobs to China.

Cotton is spending five figures to air the new ad, which began running on Ohio TV stations this week. It will also appear as a digital spot nationally. He is expected to invest six figures on the upcoming coronavirus-focused spot.

The 42-year-old Arkansas senator is a sure bet to win reelection, allowing him to use his war chest to assist the president and Republicans running down-ballot. He has more than $4.5 million in his campaign account, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission.

“I can focus on helping the president win reelection and helping my colleagues in difficult states win reelection as well,” said Cotton, who for a time was mentioned as a potential Trump pick to be CIA director. “Let’s just say that I have more time on my hands.”

Scott drew notice in January when he began airing an anti-Biden spot in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. In response, the former vice president joked that Scott was “so interested, as a senator from Florida, whether or not I should win an Iowa caucus.”

“Isn't that fascinating?” Biden asked. “Pretty amazing."

Scott, a multimillionaire former hospital executive, spent five figures on both of his spots. His second commercial, a Spanish language spot, is running in his home state of Florida. Scott said he was open to taking other steps to engage in the 2020 presidential contest.

He is also working to establish goodwill with his Senate colleagues. Last week, he invited a half-dozen Republican candidates up for election in 2020, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, onto his private plane to hopscotch across Florida for a series of fundraisers. The events netted about $1.7 million, which will be distributed to each of the candidates running in November.

Some of those on the jaunt speculated that Scott might be interested in serving as a future National Republican Senatorial Committee chair, a perch that would give the Florida senator entrée to a wide swath of prominent GOP donors.

By taking the unexpected step of running pro-Trump ads, Cotton and Scott are making a clear play for the president’s supporters at a time when fealty to the commander-in-chief defines the party. Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election, many in the party are convinced that Trump will play an outsize role in determining the future of the party — including who sits atop the 2024 ticket.

“Primary voters pay attention to these things,” said Jim McLaughlin, a veteran Republican pollster who is working on Trump’s reelection effort.

McLaughlin, who worked on a pro-Scott super PAC during the 2018 midterms, said the Florida Republican’s move helped him “stand out, which is not always easy to do when you’re a senator.”

Cotton and Scott are also filling a vacuum. While Democratic primary candidates clog the TV airwaves, the president has gotten relatively little cover. Trump’s reelection campaign has focused much of its advertising on digital outlets, while the main super PAC supporting the president is husbanding its resources for later.

The senators said they had each spoken with the Trump team about their efforts. Cotton noted that he had personally chatted with the president about his belief that China would play a central role in the general election.

“Sen. Scott and Sen. Cotton have been strong allies of the president,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman. “Their support is much appreciated.”

Both men have taken other steps to position themselves for 2024. Later this spring, Cotton is slated to headline a political dinner in New Hampshire, a key early primary state. He is also helping one of the state's Republican Senate candidates, Don Bolduc. Cotton has filmed a TV ad for Bolduc that is expected to run later this spring.

Scott visited the state prior to last month’s New Hampshire primary to stump for Trump.

The Florida senator indicated he hadn’t given much thought about 2024 or how his efforts might affect what unfolds in the coming years.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “There’s always a risk-reward, right?"

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