CLEVELAND – As a candidate for the Republican Senate in Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno is close to former President Donald Trump’s brand.
Moreno, a car dealer and blockchain technology entrepreneur from the Cleveland area, presents himself similarly to an outsider. And last month, during a private meeting he and three rivals had with the former president in Florida, Moreno submitted to a “Hunger Games” -like competition for Trump’s support.
But five years ago, Moreno wanted nothing to do with Trump when he made his way to the Republican President nomination and White House.
According to emails from NBC News, Moreno beat Trump as a “maniac” and a “madman” in correspondence with a national Republican fundraising adviser seeking donations. Moreno said he will ask for “a convention miracle” at an upcoming meeting with the Pope that will see Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, then Speaker of the House, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida “emerge as the savior of the Republican Party.”
And he suggested that he would stop donating to the national party if Trump became its leader.
“I firmly believe in the party! But … If Donald Trump is nominated, I will assume that a hostile takeover will take over the role and no longer connect me to THIS new GOP,” Moreno wrote in an exchange in March 2016 a request to meet with then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, during a visit to Cleveland. Moreno said he would be out of the country.
“I understand the position Reince is in and he does his best when a madman invades the party,” added Moreno. “Looking back, more could / should have been done early, but I don’t blame anyone for it. Looking back is always 20/20.”
Moreno closed the email prophetically: “The worst for me,” he wrote, “I think Trump can beat Hillary!”
A month later, when Trump got a tighter grip on the nomination in an area that had started with 17 candidates, the fundraising advisor reached out to Moreno, acknowledging concerns “about the presidential-level situation,” wondering if whether Moreno could help split Senate Funds.
“Given that I see a future in which Trump is the leader of my previous party, I got myself out of the way,” Moreno replied. “I will support individual candidates, but I cannot support a party led by this madman.”
Moreno’s campaign forwarded additional emails from correspondence in response to questions about the emails. One of them was the advisor’s pity on Moreno for “a very strange place we are” and saying “Nobody expected this to be the place we are in March 2016.”
Moreno’s campaign also revealed that the adviser is now raising money for one of Moreno’s main opponents of the GOP, Jane Timken, former leader of the state’s Republican Party.
“This email exchange was with Jane Timken’s current fundraiser,” said Moreno campaign manager Parker Briden. “At the time the fundraiser was raising money for the RNC when these five-year-old emails were exchanged.”
“Bernie gave more than $ 50,000 to the RNC and related companies in the Trump 2016 cycle,” added Briden. “That includes thousands of dollars after that conversation – to support Republicans up and down. He was obviously cheered and disappointed at the moment years ago, but he supported Donald Trump, donated him and is fired for his agenda.”
The donation to Trump came at an event in Cleveland in October for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising project with the RNC, a spokesman for the Moreno campaign said.
Moreno had raised money for Rubio’s presidential bid and contributed to the White House campaign of John Kasich, then governor of Ohio, at the start of the 2016 cycle. His company also gave $ 20,000 to the Cleveland Republican Convention Host Committee long before it was announced that Trump would be the candidate.
His initial skepticism about Trump doesn’t make Moreno unique among Republicans pursuing GOP Senator Rob Portman, who announced in January that he was not seeking re-election.
Former treasurer Josh Mandel also supported Rubio first, and Timken had supported Kasich. But Mandel and Timken would eventually have strong ties to the Trump network. Mandel did it through the political aids he gave Trump for the 2016 general election, and Timken through her years as Trump’s hand-picked leader of the Republican Party.
Both spent the early days of developing elementary school outdoing each other on who is most loyal to Trump.
As Briden noted, Moreno continued to contribute to other party leaders and organizations in the run-up to Trump’s election, even though he had skipped the GOP in his fundraising emails. He gave Ryan’s Super-PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee $ 10,000 each that fall, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The following year, when the 2018 interim campaigns began, Moreno was a top donor to the successful House campaign from Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the former NFL recipient and standout Ohio State Buckeyes. Gonzalez – one of ten Republicans who voted this year to indict Trump for instigating the January 6 riot in the Capitol – is now considered one of the most despised figures in Trump’s political orbit. Timken had also been a staunch ally of Gonzalez, speaking favorably of him in the weeks following the impeachment vote before reversing course a month later, asking him to resign over his “wrong decision”.
In an April 2019 interview with Cleveland-based NBC subsidiary WKYC, Moreno corrected the interviewer when asked about his support for Trump.
“No, my daughter is working on Trump 2020,” said Moreno. “And she’s free to do that. We have a heated debate about politics at home and my daughter is working on the Trump campaign. That doesn’t mean I support the Trump campaign.”
A spokesman said Monday that Moreno does not want to overshadow his daughter’s professional work.
Today Moreno is brazenly leaning on Trump. He sprinkled his official campaign launch last week with other gestures to Trump and his supporters. He was backed by Trump loyalist Richard Grenell, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, and his steering committee includes Trump allies with Ohio ties, including Rev. Darrell Scott and former White House aide Ja’Ron Smith. Once a GOP donor who wanted his party to cancel Trump, he’s now a voting attorney.
“Big tech companies worked together to get President Donald J. Trump off the Internet because they hate what he represents,” Moreno writes on his website. “If you can silence him, what will you do with the rest of us if we step out of line?”