Donald Trump Jr.’s influence as kingmaker in Republican primaries is poised to be tested in Pennsylvania, where close friend and failed 2020 congressional candidate Sean Parnell entered the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey.
Republicans seeking office in 2022 are climbing over themselves to win the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. In some contests, Republicans are sitting out because they fear Trump will endorse other candidates. But the former president’s eldest son, Trump Jr., also carries weight inside the party. He is a sought-after surrogate and fundraiser and popular with grassroots conservatives. His endorsement could end up proving nearly as valuable as his father’s in competitive primaries.
“Donald Trump Jr.’s endorsement will put Parnell at the top of the pack and will open the fundraising floodgates for Parnell,” said Jeffrey Brauer, political scientist at Keystone College, near Scranton, Pennsylvania. “While Donald Trump Jr. will indeed act as a surrogate for his father, he himself remains popular with Pennsylvania GOP voters.”
Trump Jr.’s endorsement of Parnell was expected. The author and Army combat of the war in Afghanistan is a close ally of the Trump family. He and Trump Jr. bonded during the 2020 campaign during Trump Jr.’s several trips to western Pennsylvania to campaign for Parnell, with Trump Jr. tweeting in February that he would back “my friend” Parnell, a “strong America First conservative” for “any office he decides to run for” in the midterm elections.
Parnell announced a run for the Senate Tuesday, putting to the test just how far Trump Jr.’s endorsement can carry him. Though possibly the highest-profile Republican to enter the race, the 39-year-old could face a crowded and difficult primary campaign as excitement in the party grows that a backlash against President Joe Biden is brewing and the GOP is on track to recapture control of Congress.
Wealthy businesswoman Carla Sands, who Trump appointed U.S. ambassador to Denmark, and whose late husband, California real estate magnate Fred Sands was a major GOP donor, is preparing to jump in. Already running, among others, are real estate developer and 2018 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor Jeff Bartos and Trump campaign activist and Army veteran Kathy Barnette. Barnette, who is black, recently issued a campaign launch video that had some conservative media personalities gushing.
Republican insiders in Pennsylvania expect Parnell to attract a fair amount of support from GOP voters partial to Trump regardless of endorsements. Parnell lost his bid for a Pittsburgh-area House seat to Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, who also is expected to run for Senate in 2022. But Parnell burnished his reputation with grassroots Republicans in part by demanding Biden’s victory in the state be vacated, backing Trump’s claims of massive election fraud.
The question is whether an endorsement from Trump Jr. will prove as meaningful as a seal of approval from Trump. The former president might ultimately back Parnell, although he has tread cautiously in other states with crowded, uncertain Senate primaries. “I don’t think Don Jr.’s endorsement will be anywhere as powerful as his father’s endorsement,” said Josh Novotney, a GOP operative in Philadelphia.
“Nothing against Don Jr.,” Novotney added. “But his dad was president and is arguably still the head of the party.”
Washington Examiner, David M. Drucker, May 11, 2021