Trump-Backed Candidates Face Republican Attacks as Primaries Loom

Some of the Republican primary candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump are facing significant opposition from fellow members of the GOP.

Trump has been traversing the country over the past couple months, hosting rallies nearly every weekend in various states alongside Republican candidates he has endorsed ahead of the upcoming GOP primaries.

Some Republicans have expressed concern that some Trump-backed candidates will hurt the party's chances of maintaining or flipping seats in the general election. Several are facing significant pushback and Republican-backed efforts to prevent them from winning their primaries.

In Pennsylvania, Trump endorsed physician and prominent television personality Mehmet Oz in his bid to replace outgoing GOP Senator Pat Toomey.

"I have known Dr. Oz for many years, as have many others, even if only through his very successful television show. He has lived with us through the screen and has always been popular, respected, and smart," the former president said in a statement last weekend.

That decision drew swift backlash from some Republicans who do not view Oz as a real conservative.

"I think it was a mistake for Trump to endorse Oz. I'll say it, I'm not afraid to say it," Fox News host Laura Ingraham said on her Tuesday night show.

Donald Trump in North Carolina
Some of former President Donald Trump's endorsements are receiving pushback and criticism from fellow Republicans. Above, Trump speaks at a rally at The Farm at 95 on April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina. Allison Joyce/Getty Images

"Wait ? President endoresd [sic] this guy ?" right-wing strategist Roger Stone, a Trump ally who received a pardon from the former president, wrote on Sunday in a Telegram post.

Stone included an image of Oz on his television show flexing his bicep as former first lady Michelle Obama, a Democrat, did the same.

Sean Parnell, who previously had Trump's endorsement in the Pennsylvania race before withdrawing over a child custody battle with his estranged wife, told Politico that he's been receiving frustrated phone calls from fellow Republicans.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook from committee chairs in Pennsylvania saying, 'What the heck is going on? What was President Trump thinking?'" Parnell said.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Tennessee's state legislature attempted to legally prevent Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus from being allowed to run to represent the state's 5th District in Congress. The former Trump State Department spokesperson, who moved to the state last year, also has the backing of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The GOP-supported state legislation requires candidates to have voted in three previous statewide general elections.

While that legislation passed the Tennessee state House and Senate, Republican Governor Bill Lee did not sign it but sent it back to the legislature. Because it wasn't signed or vetoed within 10 days, the bill automatically became law, but it didn't go into effect until after the filing deadline for candidates.

"The bill was not signed into law before the April 7th filing deadline," Tennessee secretary of state spokesperson Julia Bruck told CNN. "The requirement does not apply retroactively to candidates who met the qualification deadline at noon on April 7."

As a result, Ortagus will be allowed to continue her campaign in the crowded GOP primary.

A Trump spokesperson, Taylor Budowich, criticized Republicans in Tennessee attempting to prevent Ortagus' candidacy from going forward.

"RINOs in Tennessee who are trying to pull strings and illegally remove President Trump's endorsed candidate...from the ballot," Budowich told CNN.

Budowich criticized the efforts by "power-hungry insiders...to deprive voters of the opportunity to elect the strong America First champion."

In Georgia, Trump is looking to settle a personal vendetta against Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who declined to work with Trump in his effort to overturn President Joe Biden's narrow victory in the state. Trump has backed former GOP Senator David Perdue to oust Kemp, but polls suggest Kemp is well-positioned ahead of the primary.

A Fox News poll released in March showed Kemp with a substantial lead. Just 39 percent of Georgia's GOP voters backed Perdue while 50 percent supported Kemp—an 11-point lead for the incumbent governor.

My phone has been ringing off the hook from committee chairs in Pennsylvania saying, 'What the heck is going on? What was President Trump thinking?'
Ex-Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell

Another recent poll by the University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs showed Kemp leading Perdue 48 percent to 37 percent among voters who were unaware of Trump's endorsement. In a separate group that was aware of Trump's support for Perdue, the former Republican senator saw only a 2 percent boost.

"You almost feel bad for David Perdue. That [he's] walking off the plank that Donald Trump has put out there for him here in Georgia," Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican, told ABC News in late March ahead of a Trump rally in the state.

"We're going to see a rally show up that's once again going to confuse Georgians, and who knows what Donald Trump's gonna say."

Duncan said that Trump is "out to settle a score" in Georgia. "And that's no way to keep conservative leadership in power."

In Ohio's GOP Senate primary, where Trump is rumored to be planning to back J.D. Vance, Republicans are already working to lobby the former president against that endorsement.

Remington Research, a polling firm associated with Vance rival Josh Mandel's campaign, began circulating a memo to prominent Republicans. Polling data showed that a Trump endorsement of Vance would not push the Republican contender into winning territory.

"JD Vance will still lose even with President Trump's endorsement. JD Vance is widely known by Republican Primary voters for his Never-Trumper comments and his calling Trump supporters 'racists,'" Titus Bond, the Remington Research president, wrote in the memo, Politico reported.

"Since he is already known to Ohioans as a self-proclaimed 'Never Trumper' and voters will forcefully be reminded of that, Vance will still lose even with President Trump's endorsement."

The memo said that even with Trump's support, Vance would manage only fourth place with just 15 percent support among GOP voters.

Trump has repeatedly bragged in the past about his endorsements, arguing that he picks winners. In reality, the former president's support has had mixed results—as is the case with most former and current presidents and other prominent officials. But the debate over some of Trump's picks demonstrates the ongoing tensions within the GOP over the party's future, even if its voters have largely aligned behind the former president.

Newsweek reached out to Trump's press office for comment.