After the “disaster” of the last election cycle, Republican Senator Steve Daines is taking the Republican Senate campaign arm in a new direction, insisting that he and Donald Trump are aligned when it comes to supporting winnable candidates.
“The clearest path to becoming a majority is in the United States Senate,” the Montanan said in an interview at his National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) office.
“We have three red states where Democrats have to defend an incumbent: that’s Ohio, that’s West Virginia, that’s Montana.”
With a promising map in front of him, Daines knows success will depend on how closely the NRSC and Trump work together to clear the path for their hand-picked candidates.
This past cycle, the NRSC, led by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, took a more laissez-faire approach to Republican primaries. Trump, in turn, supported a number of primary candidates who lacked broader appeal in swing states in general elections, such as Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
Daines, however, refused to blame Trump.
“We talk often, we go back and forth about what’s happening in the country. We talk a lot about Senate races,” Daines said of his relationship with the former president.
After the “disaster” of the last election cycle, top Republican Sen. Steve Daines is steering the Senate GOP campaign arm in a new direction, insisting that he and Donald Trump are on the same page when it comes to supporting winnable candidates.
But the question is how much Trump and his support will help in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.
“You can see that President Trump has been really great. He supported Jim Justice there in West Virginia, which I think led to Joe Manchin’s decision to retire. So we’re on the same page as we go into the Senate races.”
This cycle, the campaign group has become much more involved in eliminating candidates they don’t see as viable, both in a primary, where Trumpist conservatives often dominate, and in a general election where they need independent votes.
When former lawmaker Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump, entered the Michigan Senate primary earlier this month, the NRSC immediately issued a warning that voters would not be “enthusiastic” about him in a general election.
Looking back on 2022, “I mean, that was a disaster,” Daines said.
Republicans narrowly won the House of Representatives and Democrats took control of the Senate, despite historic midterm headwinds from the party not controlling the White House.
“I hate to lose, I love to win,” he added, recalling the missteps he identified as opportunities for change as he took on his leadership role.
“I started recruiting candidates and making sure we could find candidates that would appeal not only to the Republican base, but also to independent voters because that’s what’s going to decide this election,” Daines said. “Elections are not decided on election day, they are decided on filing day.”
In one race, Arizona’s Kari Lake lost a statewide election last cycle and still received Trump’s support. Although the NRSC has not yet officially weighed in, it praised Lake.
Kari Lake is the leading Republican candidate for Arizona’s open Senate seat
“She is one of the most talented politicians we have in the 2024 cycle,” Daines said.
Trump took a liking to Lake when, as a 2022 gubernatorial candidate, she aggressively pushed his own claims of 2020 election fraud.
Lake, who has not yet conceded that she will not win the 2022 governor’s race, received Trump’s endorsement the day she entered the race in October. Days later, she won the support of another Senate Republican in the leadership: John Barrasso, Wyo.
For his part, Daines insists Lake will be “the nominee” in Arizona and says the two have become “friends.”
He gave her advice: “I think what Kari is doing and will have to continue to do is focus on the issues. Looking ahead, the issues that matter most to independent voters include the high price of gas, the high price of out-of-control groceries, the southern border, the crime that is rampant, the weakness of the Biden administration.”
“If she continues to focus on the issues that matter to voters here, especially independent voters, she is going to win that race in Arizona.”
In Washington, Daines serves as a bridge between Trump and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Despite working closely together during Trump’s first administration, the two have severed all ties.
Two alarming public freezes within a few months raised questions about how long the 81-year-old McConnell’s time as leader would last.
Daines defended McConnell, insisting that it is “up to him” whether he continues to lead Republicans in the Senate beyond 2024 — and possibly try to work with Trump again in the White House.
“Those two frostbites he had, he’s been very clear about what happened there. It was actually the effects of a concussion he had in March,” Daines said. “I serve with him every day. It’s very sharp, and it’s sharp and snappy as ever.”