- Trump had an “Apprentice”-like meeting with four Ohio GOP Senate candidates.
- The candidates all did their best to prove their loyalty to the former president.
- A potential endorsement from Trump could give a candidate an enormous edge among GOP voters.
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Former President Donald Trump may be far from his old New York boardroom, but on Wednesday he gave four Ohio GOP Senate candidates the type of grilling famously depicted on his long-running reality television series “The Apprentice,” according to Politico.
Before a fundraiser at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump had the candidates – former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken, investment banker Mike Gibbons, and businessman Bernie Moreno – sit together for a backroom meeting.
The four Republicans are set to run for Ohio’s open Senate seat in 2022, which will be vacated by two-term GOP Sen. Rob Portman at the end of his term.
The candidates were all in Florida to attend the event for Max Miller, a Trump-backed candidate who is seeking to unseat GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in a primary and win the general election in Ohio’s heavily-Republican 16th Congressional District.
As the candidates were speaking with guests during the pre-dinner reception, one of Trump’s aides informed the candidates that the former president wanted to speak with them privately.
When everyone was assembled together, the meeting devolved into a 15-minute free-for-all of attacks and statements given to prove fealty to the former president, according to the report.
Mandel, who previously ran for the Senate in 2012 and was defeated by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, reportedly said he was “crushing” Timken in the polls, while Timken boasted of her grassroots support while leading the state party.
Gibbons reminded Trump of his donations to the former president’s campaign, while Moreno stated that his daughter was a part of Trump’s 2020 campaign team.
With Trump planning to play an active role in the 2022 midterm elections, an endorsement could put the race away for a particular candidate, and they are all openly competing with each other for the former president’s support.
One person familiar with the meeting told Politico that the event was like “The Hunger Games,” the dystopian trilogy of books and feature films; the candidates also had to sit at a circular table facing each other.
When Trump asked the group how the race was going, Timken mentioned discussed her work to reelect the former president.
Trump responded by pointing out that Timken had initially backed Gonzalez after the congressman voted to impeach him, which led Timken to say that she “cleaned” her stance by later calling on the congressman to resign, according to the report.
However, another individual familiar with the meeting said that Trump was just “teasing” Timken over her previous comments about Gonzalez.
The biggest source of tension was reportedly between Timken and Mandel, who have already launched their campaigns, while Gibbons and Moreno haven’t formally started their respective campaigns yet.
Mandel made a strong push for his candidacy, saying that he “hired a bunch of killers” for his campaign team.
“I’m a killer, and we’re going to win the primary and then the general,” he reportedly said.
Trump also showed a high level of interest in GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, whom the former president criticized after the governor referred to President Joe Biden as “president-elect” after the 2020 election was called last year.
DeWine is up for reelection in 2022.