Tom Emmer scrambles to fix his Trump problem

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As House Republicans sort through a field of short-timers and back-benchers to pick their next speaker, Majority Whip Tom Emmer stands out.

The Minnesota Republican helped the GOP claw its way back into the majority as a two-time NRCC chair. Not only has he won chits from colleagues by raising money and campaigning across the country, he has spent the past nine months as whip building relationships among conservatives and centrists alike.

But Emmer has a Donald Trump problem.

The former president has told associates that he doesn’t want Emmer for the job. And Trump’s allies have already taken to social media and talk radio to pan him as too out of step with the leader of their party.

“He’s openly hostile to Trump, which isn’t helpful since Trump will be the nominee,” said one anti-Emmer member. “It’s laughable that he, at the end of the day, would end up being the speaker of the House. Even if he gets the majority of the majority, he will come far short for members who won’t vote for him on the floor.”

To be sure, Emmer has shown a willingness to buck Trump when other top Republicans wouldn’t. He was one of the few senior GOP leaders, for instance, who voted to accept the electoral votes that clinched President Joe Biden’s victory.

But Emmer world is pushing back hard on the whisper campaign against him, and his allies have a retort for every charge — from the fact that Emmer supported both of Trump’s presidential bids to one ally’s insistence that he’s “never heard him say a negative thing about Trump” to the autographed photo of the two of them that Emmer keeps in his office.

Rather, they say, the entire conflict has been concocted by his foes in the House who have grievances that have nothing to do with Trump.

They point to Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who narrowly lost the contentious whip race last year even after many MAGA world figures weighed in against Emmer. And to allies of Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), whose orbit has also clashed with Emmer’s, dating back to when the two sparred over her push for more women campaign recruits.

“Banks … activated Trump world against Emmer, and a lot of that was unfounded,” one Emmer ally said. “But there’s still lingering false narratives from that race. It didn’t work for Banks. It’s not going to work now to paint Emmer as if he’s a Never Trumper.”

The issue for Emmer is that narratives can be hard to change, particularly if Trump himself is buying them. One Emmer critic predicted there will be “at least 10 hard nos” ready to oppose him in a floor vote.

But that isn’t stopping Emmer world from responding, point by point, to the allegations being made against him:

Charge No. 1

As head of the NRCC, Emmer told GOP candidates to distance themselves from Trump on the campaign trail.

The response: Emmer denied the allegation, which appears to stem from a 2022 CNN story, during a Fox News interview where he likewise praised Trump as a “fantastic ally” for the House GOP. Instead, he said, he told candidates to “know your district” and how best to win.

Either way you put it, it’s only common sense to counsel candidates running in swing districts away from hugging Trump. Doing otherwise would almost be malpractice.

Emmer’s allies also note that Emmer not only invited Trump to fundraisers but invited the former president’s inner circle — including Stephen Miller, Susie Wiles, Brian Jack and Chad Wolf — as guests during their regular Sunday night calls with candidates.

Charge No. 2

Emmer hasn’t endorsed Trump for president.

The response: True, but neither have other senior GOP leaders, including former Speaker Kevin McCarthy or Majority Leader Steve Scalise — who have all tried to stay inside political Switzerland as the presidential race swirls around them. Emmer’s allies say he’ll endorse whomever wins the nomination, Trump included, when the time comes.

Charge No. 3

Emmer’s office was behind a whisper campaign during the whip race accusing Banks of hiring Tucker Carlson’s son, Buckley, to win favor from conservative media.

The response: Emmer has denied that the blind quotes in question came from him — including to Tucker Carlson himself. Indeed, the anonymous comments could have come from anywhere: Many GOP lawmakers said much the same thing about Banks to reporters around that time.

Charge No. 4

Emmer didn’t do enough to help Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) win the speaker’s gavel, since he was angling for his own bid.

The response: “That is sooo B.S.,” one Emmer ally told us. His inner circle noted they allowed Jordan to use the whip’s office conference room to meet with holdouts and that, at one point, Jordan’s foes even yelled at Emmer’s team to stop calling them about changing their minds.

What’s next for Emmer

Even Emmer’s allies aren’t sure he’ll win the nomination on the first ballot in Tuesday’s conference election, given the nine-candidate field. But they’re confident other candidates’ backers will ultimately turn to the whip and push him over the top. Emmer has already been seeking commitments from lawmakers for the second and even third ballots, according to people familiar with his operation.

Then comes the hard part: pinning down 217.

It might all come down to what Trump himself does. The former president hasn’t weighed in against Emmer publicly, and he isn’t yet making calls to whip opposition, people knowledgeable about the race said.

Will that change if Emmer wins the nomination? Some in the whip’s orbit hope he might stay neutral — particularly after his backing for Jordan failed to anoint him speaker.

Emmer has some hard-right allies who might help. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the former House Freedom Caucus chair who helped oust McCarthy, broached Emmer as a potential alternative. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has also been acting as a bit of a go-between between Emmer and Trump world — though one Emmer critic argued Gaetz’s assistance might backfire given his toxic standing among most House Republicans right now.

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), who has been pushing a long-shot effort to seat Trump himself as speaker, offered a peek at how the MAGA bloc is viewing Emmer. The attacks aren’t looking good, he said, casting doubt on whether Emmer could ever win enough votes on the floor.

But Emmer can take heart that Nehls would not be personally willing to tank his speaker dreams: “If Tom Emmer can get to 217, I’ll back him.”

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