CAPITAL REGION — Despite a number of high-profile GOP politicians and pundits blaming Donald Trump for a lackluster outcome in the midterm elections, the controversial figure remains Randy Bashwinger’s top choice for president in 2024.
“Whether you liked him or not, he was one of the best presidents,” said the Albany County Republican Committee chairman. “He had his flaws just like all of ’em, but he could definitely get things done.”
After teasing a return since losing the White House to Joe Biden in 2020, Trump on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago formally announced his candidacy to retake the presidency. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely speculated to also run for president in 2024.
Polling numbers between the two politicians is mixed, but Trump has mostly held an edge within the last year. DeSantis supporters like Schenectady Republican Committee Chairman Matt Nelligan believes the Florida governor’s recent re-election landslide victory signals a clear alternative for voters fed up with the former president.
“Two years is a lifetime in politics, but I would say this much: I consider the Trump phenomenon a fever that the [Republican] party caught,” said Schenectady County Republican Committee Chairman Matt Nelligan. “I see it breaking in a lot of people.”
Trump, who has spent the past year as a GOP kingmaker, took some internal strife for backing a spate of failed Senate and gubernatorial bids. Republicans on Wednesday captured another congressional seat, giving them control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year. Republicans are expected to add a few more seats, but dozens fewer than had been expected.
Bashwinger, who would support DeSantis if the former president wasn’t running, reiterated Trump’s announcement remarks: Many MAGA-endorsed candidates up and down the ballot won. It just wasn’t enough to dramatically tip the balance of power in Washington D.C.
His committee plans to back whoever gets the GOP nomination. Bashwinger said he’s not “100% sure” where members currently stand on the former president’s bid.
“Just speaking in the past, I know my committee was hoping Trump would run again,” Bashwinger said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I don’t want to overstep.”
Only 20% of Republicans have negative feelings toward the candidate, a Pew Research survey found in a survey last month.
The Never Trump minority movement within GOP ranks failed to gain steam in the past. However, Nelligan said he has noticed dwindling Trump enthusiasm, including from Schenectady GOP Vice Chairman Tom Kennedy.
He doesn’t expect to pursue a formal city committee endorsement in the primary, but plans to recommend DeSantis to fellow New York state and Schenectady County Republican Committee members.
The Schenectady County GOP didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Saratoga County Republican Committee earlier this year was one of the first counties in the state to back Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, in his primary fight against Rob Astorino and Marc Molinaro. The group plans to have delegates for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee by mid-2024, but has no intention of making a committee-wide endorsement.
Six years ago, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties flipped for Trump. Two years ago, the local map — much like a handful of battleground states — pivoted against him in the dense suburbs. Meanwhile, the Mohawk Valley has remained a safe ground for Trump in the last two presidential elections.
“I am enthusiastic,” said Canajoharie Republican Town Supervisor Benny Goldstein. “I’m so excited. Go Trump. We all love Trump.”
While running for town supervisor against Ronald O. Dievendorf in 2021, Goldstein boasted lawn signs with a small illustration of Trump on “Trumpist Republican” seal. He won against his Democratic rival by only four votes.
“DeSantis is wonderful, but hands down Trump,” Goldstein said.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik R-Schulyerville, once more moderate in rhetoric, has tightly aligned herself with Trump since he first stepped into power. Stefanik on Twitter characterized the former president’s announcement as “strong” and wrote “#SaveAmerica.”
Two-time Republican congressional candidate Liz Joy, in a statement regarding the announcement, extolled the past administration.
“Americans across the nation benefited from President Trump’s policies when he was in office,” Joy said. “Our economy was thriving and our wallets and pocketbooks were benefiting from America’s strong energy independence. Americans from every economic background and household were employed and our country’s borders were secure. We need a new administration that can alleviate the excruciating inflation and cost of living and Donald Trump’s strategies already proved it once.”
Trump supporters, including some adverse to his rhetoric, often laud the past administration’s deregulation efforts, judicial victories, hardline immigration stance and GDP gains as an easy choice. The former president, while out of office, dodged conviction in the Senate following impeachment for his actions that many believe led to a riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Joy was in Washington, D.C., that day, but claims she was surrounded by peaceful protesters two miles away and, in a recent editorial meeting with The Daily Gazette, condemned the violence. Stefanik has since said that her decision to decertify the election results was based on alleged voting irregularities, but Biden is president.
Trump has repeatedly claimed the election was stolen. Judges have dismissed more than 50 lawsuits questioning Biden’s win.
While the former president faces some national pushback on running again, so does Biden. Some 40% of Democrats don’t wish for the 79-year-old president to seek a second term, according to exit polling by Edison Research.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3097 or [email protected]