Washington — Former President Donald Trump has left office, but his political presence still looms large over the Republican Party as it seeks to regain majorities in Congress in 2022.
Two controversial GOP politicians who have tied themselves closely to the former president announced their Senate campaigns in Missouri and Alabama on Monday evening, presenting a test for whether Trumpian politics can attract voters without Mr. Trump himself on the ballot.
GOP Congressman Mo Brooks announced that he would join Alabama's primary to replace Senator Richard Shelby, whothat he would not seek another term. Brooks jumped into the race at an event on Monday with Stephen Miller, a former adviser to Mr. Trump. Miller is considered one of the primary architects of Mr. Trump's hardline immigration policies, and his endorsement of Brooks is meant to signal the congressman's ties to the former president.
"I am a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, not the GOP surrender caucus. And as President Trump can vouch, I don't cut and run. I stand strong when the going gets tough," Brooks said during his campaign launch event.
Brooks recently came under fire for his comments at the January 6 rally that preceded a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, resulting in the deaths of five people.
"Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," Brooks said at the rally not far from the White House, while wearing a hat that said "Fire Pelosi." He also condemned "weak-kneed Republicans" and urged attendees to "fight for America." Brooks has refused to apologize for his remarks, saying that he was not inciting violence.
Meanwhile, former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens announced in an interview with Fox News on Monday that he would run for the Senate seat that will be vacated by GOP Senator Roy Blunt, who willat the end of his term.
Greitensin 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct and blackmail, and faced two criminal charges and an ethics investigation. But the charges have been dropped and the probe concluded, leaving Greitens to emerge from the ashes of his political career to attempt a comeback.
In his interview with Fox News, Greitens said he had resigned only for the sake of his family. Greitens was facing a potential impeachment inquiry by the state legislature when he stepped down.
"I was honored to serve the people of Missouri as their governor," Greitens said, adding that he is running for Senate because "the people of Missouri need a fighter in the United States Senate."
Greitens has remained a staunch supporter of the former president. He said in a tweet on Monday that he was a "fierce defender of President Trump" and would "continue Trump's America First policies" if elected. Greitens has been a frequent guest on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's podcast, and obtained an endorsement from former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Like Brooks, Greitens also amplified the false claim that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election. On January 6, he appeared on a conservative podcast expressing support for Mr. Trump's conspiracy theories about the results less than an hour after the police secured the Capitol, according to reporting by Media Matters for America.
Mr. Trump has not yet waded into either race. Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the former president, said he believed Mr. Trump should stay out of the Republican primaries in Missouri and Alabama.
"I think I'd just let it play out, if I were him," Graham said.
It's also unclear whether Brooks and Greitens would necessarily be Mr. Trump's candidate of choice because of their previous support for him. Lynda Blanchard, Mr. Trump's former ambassador to Slovenia, has also entered the Republican primary in Alabama.
Mr. Trump has been advised on the Missouri race by Senator Josh Hawley, who as state attorney general was one of the most high-profile Republicans to call on Greitens to step down in 2018. Hawley, who was elected to the Senate in 2018, is also a close ally of the former president.
Hawley told reporters on Tuesday that he had spoken to Mr. Trump about the race.
"I think he probably won't be involved," Hawley said about whether he believed Mr. Trump would endorse Greitens in the primary.