Trump rages at top Republicans even as advisors urge him to focus attacks on Biden, Democrats

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Former President Donald Trump

Tom Brenner | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump continues to rage at top Republicans who have criticized him, despite some advisors insisting he should take aim at President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders instead, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and longtime GOP political operative Karl Rove are among the targets of Trump’s anger, these people said.

These people declined to be named in order to speak freely.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller responded to CNBC’s request for comment for this story by emailing: “Fake news. We’re focused on winning back the House and Senate in 2022.”

CNBC had asked which Republicans Trump intended to target during midterm primaries after the former president said he plans to back several primary contenders who support his Make America Great Again agenda.

There are 20 Senate seats currently held by Republicans, including four who aren’t running, which will be up for grabs in 2022. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is the only one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial who is up for reelection next year. The entire House is at stake, as well.

Trump’s anger at Republicans who have criticized him was most publicly evident in his statement lambasting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom Trump called a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”

Trump’s remarks came after McConnell, even after voting to acquit the former president in his second impeachment trial, said Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot. Trump said in response that he plans to back primary contenders in the 2022 midterm elections who stand with him.

Advisors have told Trump that many Republican voters, who have been polled by the former president’s strategists, do not want to see an all-out war in the GOP. Instead, they would rather see Trump focus his attacks on Biden and top Democrats.

Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has told associates that he wants to persuade McConnell to engage with Trump in order for the two to settle their differences ahead of the midterms, according to one GOP advisor. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is reportedly planning to meet with Trump this weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in an attempt to play peacemaker.

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the NRSC, told CNBC that Scott is “not involved in mediating anything. He’s focused on the future and winning back the Senate. He’s spending every day raising money and talking about how important it is to save this country by stopping the Democrats’ mad rush into socialism and loss of freedom and prosperity.”

“I don’t know if he’s spoken to the Leader recently but we don’t talk about private conversations he had with other Senators,” Hartline added.

Representatives for McConnell and Scott did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, Trump’s allies aren’t backing away from the idea that support for his agenda will help Republicans in primaries.

“When you know you’ve got the muscle of President Trump behind you, and all of the devoted loyal followers of the president, and even as important or more important, his America First policies, that’s going to be hard to beat,” Roy Bailey, a Texas businessman and former head of Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee between the campaign and the Republican National Committee, told CNBC.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch defender of Trump’s in Congress, tweeted that Republicans will be rejected by the base of the party if they don’t embrace the former president’s agenda. Gaetz has called for the ouster of Republican House leader Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., after she voted to impeach Trump.

Rove has emerged as a leading Republican critic of Trump, and the former president isn’t happy about it, one person said. Rove, an ex-senior advisor to former President George W. Bush, wrote a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal defending his longtime ally McConnell and holding Trump directly responsible for the party’s losses in the dual Georgia Senate runoffs.

“Mr. Trump lost those Georgia seats by making his campaign appearances there not about the need for checks and balances on the incoming Biden administration, but instead about his rage over losing the presidential election,” Rove wrote on Wednesday.

Trump is also mad at Thune, who is up for reelection next year, another person said. The South Dakota Republican voted with Trump over 90% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight data. But he has also been a vocal Trump critic regarding the Capitol Hill insurrection.

Trump had warned in December that Thune would face a primary challenge after the senator said efforts to challenge the Electoral College results would “go down like a dog” in the Senate. The Cook Political Report has Thune’s race as “solid Republican.”

After voting to acquit the president in his impeachment trial, Thune said: “What former President Trump did to undermine faith in our election system and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is inexcusable.”

Thune criticized Republican activists in a recent interview with the Associated Press. He said that these activists have engaged in “cancel culture” by rushing to censure GOP lawmakers who voted to support Trump’s impeachment.

Thune, according to the AP, said he plans to assist candidates “who don’t go off and talk about conspiracies and that sort of thing.”

“At the grassroots level, there’s a lot of people who want to see Trump-like candidates,” he said. “But I think we’re going to be looking for candidates that are electable.”

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