Former President Trump vowed to travel to Alaska to campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) next year as she seeks reelection. Murkowski, who first took office in 2002, has been a longtime critic of the former president and top GOP wild card in recent votes.
She bucked her party this week by announcing she’d back Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-N.M.) nomination to serve as Interior secretary, and she was one of seven Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial last month.
She is the only one of the seven seeking reelection in 2022.
“I will not be endorsing, under any circumstances, the failed candidate from the great State of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski. She represents her state badly and her country even worse. I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be — in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator,” Trump said in a statement to The Hill. “Her vote to advance radical left democrat Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior is yet another example of Murkowski not standing up for Alaska.”
The threat marks the latest indication that Trump plans to heavily insert himself into 2022 races across the country.
Republicans predict that Trump will cast himself as a kingmaker in the GOP moving forward as he mulls a 2024 bid of his own. While he’s seen his approval rating nationally dip since the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill, his endorsement is still coveted by Republican candidates eager to endear themselves with a grassroots that overwhelmingly still backs the former president.
In his first endorsements since leaving office, Trump has mostly backed incumbent lawmakers who also enjoy establishment support. However, he’s put sitting lawmakers on notice that he could also fight for their defeats if he believes they have been insufficiently supportive of him or his agenda — with his threat against Murkowski serving as a reminder that incumbency is no protection alone against a Trump challenge.
“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership,” Trump said in a statement last month.
Making good on that threat, Trump last month endorsed former White House aide Max Miller, who is challenging Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump’s feud with Murkowski goes back to at least 2018. Murkowski voted against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court that year and said in 2020 that Trump should not have named a replacement of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after Republicans in 2016 declined to take up then-President Obama’s nominee to fill in a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.
While Trump’s threat against Murkowski marks the firmest sign yet that he plans to seek to unseat her, the Alaska Republican is no electoral slouch.
Murkowski in 2010 lost the GOP primary to a right-wing activist but ultimately won reelection via a write-in campaign, underscoring her appeal to voters beyond her party affiliation. And under Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system, the top four vote-getters in an open primary will move on to the general election, meaning she won’t have the same partisan pressure on her as she did in 2010.
Beyond that, Murkowski is expected to get support from party organs. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said in January he will back incumbent GOP senators against Trump-backed primary challengers.
Republicans have expressed concerns that challenges to incumbent lawmakers from the Trump wing of the GOP could endanger their chances in the midterms. Republicans are only five seats away from gaining control of the House and one seat from winning the Senate and have looked to paper over divisions in their early messaging.
“Perhaps in more genteel times, a bunch of infighting and arguing wouldn’t do much damage. Truthfully, I enjoy bantering back and forth, and I have no interest in trying to quell intraparty policy dialogue and debates,” Scott wrote in a memo in February. “But now is not the time for division and here’s why: For the first time in any of our lives, socialism has become the unabashed, governing policy of the Democrat Party.”
Still, the threat of a Trump challenge poses real risks to sitting lawmakers — a reality Murkowski recognized last month after her vote to convict Trump.
“I know that my actions, my vote may have political consequences. And I understand that. I absolutely understand that,” she said. “But I can’t be afraid of that.”
Murkowski’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill regarding Trump’s vow, which was first reported by Politico.