What followed was a 15-minute backroom session in the back room reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he “wiped out” Timken in the poll. Timken praised her local support thanks to her time as party leader. Gibbons mentioned how he had financially supported Trump’s campaign. Moreno noted that his daughter had been working on Trump’s 2020 campaign.
The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the upcoming race in 2022. In virtually every Republican elementary school, candidates fight, audition, and battle for the support of the former president. Trump has received overtures from a multitude of candidates desperate for his approval. According to the top Republicans, he has extensive power to win or break the result of the primary elections.
And, as so often during his presidency, the former president seemed to enjoy playing people off against each other.
One person familiar with what happened Wednesday night described it as the “Hunger Games,” an awkward showdown none of them expected. To make matters even more uncomfortable, this person said, the rival candidates sat around a round table and made it so that each had to face the other.
Trump opened the meeting by asking everyone to tell him how the race went. Timken, who was Trump’s hand-picked party chairman, spoke first. She talked about the early support she had received and how she had worked to get him re-elected.
Two people familiar with the discussion said that Trump once reminded Timken that she initially defended Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, after voting for Trump’s impeachment in January. That evening’s fundraiser was supposed to benefit Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who wanted Gonzalez off the field, and the former president mocked the member of Congress throughout the evening, several attendees said.
Timken, two people said, responded to Trump by stating that she had “cleaned up” her position, an obvious reference to a later statement she released urging Gonzalez to step down.
Another person briefed on the meeting pushed this back, saying that Trump was just playfully teasing Timken about her earlier remarks on Gonzalez. The person noted that later that night, when speaking ahead of the fundraiser, the former president complimented Timken on her work as chairman.
Several people familiar with what happened during the meeting said that most of the tension appeared to be between Timken and Mandel and that they appeared to be trying to outdo each other. Timken and Mandel have already announced their candidacies and are considered to be the first leaders. Gibbons and Moreno haven’t officially launched their campaigns yet.
Mandel used his speaking time to promote his recent support from the Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization whose president, former MP David McIntosh (R-Ind.), Is close to the former president. He also noted that a recent poll by the Club for Growth showed he was a leader and mentioned that his campaign had run a private poll with similar results.
According to one report, Mandel added that he “destroyed” Timken in the early polls.
Timken laughed at the broadside and insisted that her internal polls showed her in a strong early position.
The former president said he was aware of polls showing that Mandel is ahead. At one point, however, he asked if the former treasurer was fully committed to the competition – an obvious reference to Mandel’s decision to retire from the 2018 Senate race, which he at the time attributed to his wife’s health problems.
Mandel replied, “Mr. President, there are only two ways I can do things: either not at all, or balls on the wall. I hired a couple of killers on my team. I’m a killer and we’re going to win elementary school and then general. “
Mandel went tough during the conversation, saying that he supported Trump earlier than any of his opponents during the 2016 presidential contest and that he was actively raising money for his re-election bid.
Gibbons spoke about how he had donated to Trump extensively despite the former President Gibbons’ support of opponents in the 2018 Senate primary election, the then representative. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio). According to reports from two people, Trump responded that Renacci, who replaced Gonzalez in the House of Representatives, was not a winner – a likely indication of Renacci’s loss in the 2018 general election to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.
Moreno stayed out of the fight for the most part, though at one point he said that each of the four candidates should deserve Trump’s approval.
Throughout the evening, Trump appeared fixated on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, whom the former president attacked last fall after DeWine referred to Joe Biden as “President-Elect” during an appearance on national television.
Trump has not yet approved the race, and during the meeting he gave no indication that he was supporting one candidate over another. The four are running to replace retired GOP Senator Rob Portman. The Republican field also likely includes writer JD Vance, who was absent on Wednesday night.
During the meeting, Trump asked about the governor and whether he could be defeated in an elementary school. While Mandel said the governor was politically vulnerable, Timken argued that he was hard to beat.
Later that evening at the fundraiser, the former president asked attendees what they thought of their governor. The question caused some confusion at first as the event was held in Florida, whose Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was allied with Trump. However, it soon became clear that he was referring to DeWine.
DeWine has yet to draw a Republican challenger, although Renacci has been named as a possible candidate.