Opinion | Steve Daines, the Trump Whisperer


Let us pause here to stress that the MAGA king is still making the Senate trail bumpy. On Tuesday, Ohio Republicans picked Bernie Moreno, a businessman blessed by Mr. Trump, to challenge the Democratic senator Sherrod Brown in November. In the final weeks of his campaign against two Republican rivals, Mr. Moreno leaned into dividing the party along MAGA lines. “The Never-Trumper movement is still alive in Ohio. It’s the last gasp of breath,” he declared. “And on Tuesday, we’re going to kill that last gasp of breath.” Mr. Moreno will now roll on toward November and try to win with the Forever-Trump base. But Ohio is in some ways the exception that proves the rule: In other states, things look less turbulent for the red team than they have in years.

Among the Republican strategists and staff members I’ve talked to, the bulk of the credit for this year’s upgraded roster is being showered on Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate G.O.P. campaign arm. Early in his tenure there, he announced that unlike the previous chairman, he would be playing favorites in the party’s 2024 primaries, aggressively recruiting and boosting candidates who he felt had what it took to win general elections, which, in many places, meant appealing to independent and moderate voters.

The committee elevated relatively mainstream candidates in purplish states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada. It endorsed early and often and made clear that less promising potential players could expect to get hit with unpleasant oppo research if they caused trouble. “Where there are candidates that are not able to win general elections, we’re going to be doing all we can to dissuade them,” Mr. Daines noted mildly last April. “And where there are candidates who can win general elections, do all we can to persuade them.”

In Pennsylvania, Daines & Company smoothed the path for David McCormick, the former hedge fund manager who narrowly lost the 2022 Senate nomination to the Trump-backed Mehmet Oz, who then got trounced by the Democrat John Fetterman in the general election. This time around, an early priority for Republicans was to keep another 2022 loser, Doug Mastriano, the far-right state senator who biffed his bid for governor, out of the mix. Early last year, Mr. Daines slammed Mr. Mastriano’s electability, putting him on notice that the party was not playing. A couple of months later, Mr. Mastriano announced he had decided not to run. Various G.O.P. senators, meanwhile, worked to persuade the state G.O.P., which stayed neutral in 2022, to endorse Mr. McCormick.

The biggest targets on Mr. Daines’s list are three seats held by Democrats in states that went for Mr. Trump in 2020: West Virginia, Ohio and Montana.



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