Donald Trump’s super PAC kicks off its first-ever Candidates Forum at his Mar-a-Lago club on Wednesday, a fundraising event designed to both celebrate the former president and raise the hopes of the Congress he’s promoting against the Republicans whom he considers disloyal.
The event, closed to the press and called the “Congressional Candidates Forum Take Back”, promises to be different from the traditional format of candidates giving speeches one after the other from a lectern, according to sources close to the agenda.
Instead, 10 sitting members of Congress and four members of Trump’s super PAC will moderate panels or conduct one-on-one interviews with the 13 congressional candidates scheduled to attend.
One of the expected highlights of the event: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of Trump’s top House allies, is set to interview congressional candidate Harriet Hageman, who was recruited by Trump and his allies to challenge Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Cheney earned Trump’s enmity for voting to impeach him for inciting the deadly Capitol riot, then went on to criticize him for lying about voter fraud in his loss to President Joe Biden. She also sits on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
Another Trump personal recruit, former soccer star Herschel Walker, is expected to have what is billed as a “fireside chat” about his Georgia Senate run with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
And Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn plans to interview Adam Laxalt, a Trump ally running for the Nevada Senate.
But at the end of the day, those in Trump’s orbit know that the forum is about one likely candidate more than any other: Donald Trump.
For months, Trump has been laying the groundwork to run for president again in 2024, building staff, recruiting candidates loyal to him, attacking opponents and raising so much money on three political committees that he started the year with $122 million in the bank.
One such committee is the “Make America Great Again, Again!” great PAC who is behind this forum.
The cost of admission ranges from $3,000 per person for basic access to $250,000 per couple for full treatment and VIP access. All the money is for the super PAC, not the candidates. Because he is not an announced federal candidate, Trump has more leeway to raise and spend the money.
The forum takes place in Palm Beach just a day before the Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off in Orlando, about three hours away. Some of the speakers at Trump’s event, including Trump himself, plan to speak to CPAC and many more are likely to attend.
A super PAC spokesperson would not comment on the event at Trump’s invitation. A source said it expects to attract at least 100 people.
“Trump is the most influential post-president we’ve had in modern history. I’m not going to dance around that one. I absolutely think he is,” Rep. Mike Waltz said, adding that he expects Trump to run for president. again.
Waltz, R-Fla., moderates a panel at the event that includes Ohio congressional candidate and former Trump aide Max Miller, who had filed a nomination against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in a primary.
Gonzalez, like Cheney, incurred Trump’s wrath for voting to impeach him after the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Unlike Cheney, Gonzalez dropped out of his run.
Three other Trump-endorsed candidates running against Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump on Jan. 6 will take the stage: Loren Culp, who is challenging Washington State Rep. Dan Newhouse; former housing and urban development official John Gibbs, who is challenging Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan; and Russell Fry, who challenges Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina.
Katie Arrington, who is trying to become primary representative Nancy Mace, RS.C., also has a spot. Mace did not vote to impeach Trump, but she did vote to certify Biden’s election victory.
Kelly Tshibaka, the Trump-backed challenger to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is also expected to attend. Murkowski voted to convict Trump during his impeachment trial.
The forum is not just about settling scores with Republicans. Some of the candidates scheduled to appear served in the Trump administration, such as former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who is running for Congress in Tennessee, and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is running for a House seat in Montana.
A battle-decorated green beret who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, Waltz said his panel would focus on the modern Republican Party’s “foreign policy principles” and help candidates refine their messaging in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin. commander of troops Monday in two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine after recognizing their independence.
“It’s no coincidence that the two invasions of Ukraine happened under the Obama administration and now under Biden,” he said, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “That’s what I want to talk about and really discuss with candidates as they head into campaign season.”
Democrats have already begun to push back against this GOP line of attack, pointing to Trump’s public admiration for Putin and the events at the heart of his first impeachment: the delay in security aid to Ukraine, which, according to House impeachment officials, was an attempt to take advantage of the country. to open an investigation into Biden and his family, who at the time were Trump’s most likely rival for the White House.
On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, another veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, exchanged heated words on Twitter with Ric Grenell, a member of Trump’s super PAC board and former acting director. national intelligence.
“This guy argued for reducing our military footprint in Germany and Europe for the benefit of Russia. Now he wants to play tough with Russia,” Gallego said on Twitter.
Grenell countered that the Trump administration wanted Europeans to pay more for their defense, add that the Democrats “let NATO go adrift by not asking members to pay”.
Grenell is scheduled to speak at the Trump nominee forum on Wednesday along with fellow board member Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general under Trump.
Also on the program: super PAC member Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; and super PAC chairwoman, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who represented Trump in his first Senate impeachment trial. She replaced former Trump campaign aide Corey Lewandowski, who resigned as president after a sexual harassment scandal last year.
A source close to the event planning who was not authorized to discuss the event publicly said the forum format was Bondi’s idea and that “Trump loved it”.
“This probably won’t be the last time you see an event like this from Trump,” the source said. “It’s like Magapalooza One.”
The list of candidates expected to attend includes: Katie Arrington, candidate for South Carolina’s 1st congressional district; Ted Budd, US Senate candidate in North Carolina; Loren Culp, candidate for Washington State’s 4th congressional district; Russell Fry, candidate for South Carolina’s 7th congressional district; John Gibbs, a former housing and urban development official under Trump who is running to represent Michigan’s 3rd congressional district; Harriet Hageman, candidate for Wyoming’s only congressional district; Adam Laxalt, US Senate candidate in Nevada; Max Miller, Trump’s former White House aide and candidate for Ohio’s 13th congressional district; Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokeswoman running to represent Tennessee’s 5th congressional district; Kelly Tshibaka, candidate for the United States Senate in Alaska; Derrick Van Orden, candidate for Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district; Herschel Walker, US Senate candidate in Georgia; Ryan Zinke, the former Secretary of the Interior for Montana’s only congressional district.
The current Republican members of Congress scheduled to attend are: Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana; Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, Rep. Mike Carey of Ohio; Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio; Representative Debbie Lesko of Arizona; Representative Mary Miller of Illinois; Representative Mike Waltz of Florida; Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
CORRECTION (February 24, 4:00 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misrepresented the number of seats in the House in Montana. Montana has two House seats, not one.