Trump’s risky primary move: Joining a longtime ally accused of sexual misconduct

Trump’s unwavering support for Herbster, who served on a Trump White House agricultural panel and has known the former president since 2005, clearly illustrates the general emphasis the former president places on loyalty. When Trump associates have faced accusations of misconduct, the question of what they did has often taken a backseat to how close they have been to Trump, who has then offered allies everything from pardons to campaign support in your time of need.

But this time, Trump’s involvement is especially fraught with political risk for the former president, who is obsessed with his win-loss record in the Republican primary. Nebraska Republicans say that despite Trump’s early turnout, the race for the GOP nomination on May 10 is a tie between Herbster and two other candidates, billionaire hog farmer Jim Pillen and state Sen. Brett Lindstrom.

“It’s neck and neck and neck,” said Ryan Horn, a Nebraska-based Republican strategist.

A measure of Trump’s devotion to Herbster: He is the only local candidate Trump is expected to voice his support for at Friday’s event, unlike Trump’s many previous rallies, which he has used to boost multiple contenders. Those in Trump’s orbit point out that, unlike many other states, the former president has few close allies in state offices or Nebraska’s congressional delegation, and has not endorsed any other candidates in the state.

“He is a man of his word. When he says something, he has followed through, in all the years I’ve known him,” Herbster said in an interview. “It’s easy to be friends with someone and be close to someone when something is perfect. But when something is imperfect, a lot of people… run away, and he’s not that kind of guy.”

Matt Schlapp, a high-profile Trump ally who has endorsed Herbster, and Mike Lindell, the pillow businessman and election conspiracy theorist, are among those who will also speak at the rally, which will be held on a track. NASCAR racetrack midway between Lincoln and Omaha. .

Despite that support, Herbster faces aggressive opposition from the state’s Republican limited-term governor, Pete Ricketts, who has spent the past year criticizing Herbster as unfit for office. Even after Trump’s endorsement of Herbster in October, Ricketts refused to back down: The governor and his father, billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, have contributed a combined $600,000 to an outside group that has been airing anti-Herbster TV ads. .

Pete Ricketts, who is co-chairman of the powerful Republican Governors Association and whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, has also been appearing in TV ads directed by Pillen, whom he has endorsed. Ricketts, whose antipathy toward Herbster dates back nearly a decade, also donated $100,000 directly to Pillen’s campaign and, earlier this year, traveled across the state with the candidate to announce his endorsement. He is expected to make additional joint appearances with Pillen before the primary.

Meanwhile, Herbster, 67, has denied the allegations against him, which have become a late focal point in the race. While a new national poll from POLITICO/Morning Consult showed that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to call allegations of sexual misconduct against a candidate an “important problem,” 66 percent of Republicans said it would be a “major issue for that candidate to win your support.”

One of the women accusing Herbster, state Sen. Julie Slama, said that during a GOP function in 2019, Herbster hiked up her skirt without her consent. The Nebraska Examiner, the political website that broke the story, also cited a witness to the incident who confirmed Slama’s account.

During his press conference, Herbster said that he was later invited to Slama’s wedding in the Dominican Republic and that she asked him for a contribution, stating that “those don’t seem like the normal responses of someone who has done something very, very bad.” them.”

Herbster has filed a defamation lawsuit against Slama. And his campaign has accused Ricketts of helping orchestrate the accusations, running a television ad claiming the state senator once worked for the governor.

Ricketts responded in an interview, saying it’s “ridiculous to think that someone could coordinate eight different people to talk to a reporter about this.”

Trump has taken an interest in the race, advisers say, venting about the governor’s intense push to defeat his ally. The former president privately called Ricketts “stiff,” said he views the governor’s continued involvement as a personal slight against him and complained that Ricketts “has never done anything for me,” a person familiar with the comments said. (The Ricketts family initially spent heavily to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in 2016, though the Ricketts have since donated millions of dollars to support him.)

Ricketts, who last year unsuccessfully tried to persuade Trump not to endorse Herbster, shrugged off the split.

“President Trump and I have worked together on many different issues and we agree on many policies,” the governor said in an interview. “On this issue, we disagree in the primary. We are endorsing two different candidates,” added Ricketts, who was not invited to attend the rally.

Herbster is not the first loyalist under siege that Trump has endorsed. During the last days of his presidency, Trump pardoned two of his former top political advisers, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. After White House aide Rob Porter was fired following allegations of beating two of his ex-wives, Trump commented that Porter had said he was “innocent,” adding that “he did a very good job when he was in the White House”.

After former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual harassment, Trump called O’Reilly a “good person” and said he didn’t think he “did anything wrong.” And after Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of sexual assault during his high school years, Trump called him “one of the greatest human beings you will ever have the privilege of meeting or meeting.”

People close to the former president, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women, say he often takes a skeptical view of accusations of impropriety leveled at candidates he supports, believing that once he supports someone , they become targets of baseless accusations. Trump has said privately that he doubts the allegations Herbster faces.

“I’ve been through thick and thin with Donald Trump and he’s always had my back,” said Michael Caputo, who was a top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration but later resigned after the revelations that he had made inflammatory posts on social media.

Herbster is a consummate Trump ally. He was there at the beginning of the Trump era, when the then-candidate walked down the Trump Tower escalator, and at the end, at the rally that preceded the deadly 2021 Capitol riots. In between, Herbster was a prolific donor. of the former president, contributing more than $1.1 million to pro-Trump groups during the 2020 campaign. He was also present at the 2016 debate in St. Louis between Trump and Hillary Clinton, just after the release of the tape” Access Hollywood,” which featured Trump speaking in sexually graphic terms about women.

As the race enters its final days, Nebraska Republicans say the main remaining question is whether Trump’s decision to venture into Nebraska on a Friday night puts his friend at the top of a race that is essentially tied. . Herbster has had Trump’s endorsement for months, but there is recent evidence that Trump’s endorsement may pay dividends for candidates in the future: After the former president endorsed “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist JD Vance In the Ohio GOP Senate primary, the candidates’ poll numbers skyrocketed.

“No one, no one in the Republican Party,” Herbster said, “can ever or can generate enthusiasm [and] enthusiasm like Donald J. Trump.”

Leave a Comment