The Slatest

Donald Trump and Nervous Republicans Try Again to Derail Don Blankenship

US President Donald Trump(C) arrives for a round table discussion on tax reform, at White Sulpher Springs Civic Center in White Sulpher Springs,West Virginia on April 5, 2018. 
        Shown to his left is Rep. Evan Jenkins, and (R)West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey.   / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Rep. Evan Jenkins (L), and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey take their seats at April event.
NICHOLAS KAMM/Getty Images

Donald Trump delivered a message to West Virginians on Monday: Don’t forget about Roy Moore. “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump tweeted. “Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”

Trump’s morning tweet marks the first time that the he has directly attacked Blankenship, a former coal baron who served a year in prison for his role in a deadly mine disaster, though the president had already made his preference clear last month when he went out of his way to snub Blankenship during an official visit to West Virginia. The president’s tweet comes as the GOP establishment is worried anew that Blankenship has surged past his two main rivals, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, and that he could spoil their general-election chances of taking down Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this fall.

Politico reported over the weekend that the latest internal polls show Blankenship “narrowly” ahead, in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary. After Trump’s Monday morning tweet, the Weekly Standard reported what it said were the top-line numbers from that survey and a more recent one. The internal poll taken Friday and Saturday had Blankenship at 28 percent, Morrissey at 27 percent, and Jenkins at 14 percent, according to the report. The second poll, taken Saturday and Sunday, had Blankenship at 31 percent, Jenkins at 28 percent, and Morrissey at 27 percent. The math is a little fuzzy—it’s hard to see a 14-point jump for Jenkins in 24 hours—but the fact Blankenship is in striking distance was enough to set off alarm bells in Washington.

Republicans have long feared that if Blankenship becomes their nominee, he will spoil their chances of defeating Manchin, in a state Trump won by more than 40 percentage points. The party had originally hoped to simply ignore Blankenship, and hope his ties to the devastating mine explosion that killed 29 people would be enough to sink his candidacy. But Blankenship emerged as a serious contender this spring, despite his criminal record, by casting himself as a truth-telling outsider, with an axe to grind against the party’s own Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s allies eventually launched a well-funded covert attack against him last month. Blankenship then responded by airing blatantly xenophobic ads attacking McConnell, who is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, an American citizen who was born in Taiwan.

Trump’s anti-endorsement echoed a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. last week that similarly invoked Roy Moore’s loss in a Senate special election last year. Trump and national Republicans, including Trump, tried and failed to stop Moore from securing the nomination in that race. Moore won anyway, and then lost the general election after damning allegations about his conduct with teenager girls. “No more fumbles like Alabama,” tweeted Donald Jr. “We need to win in November.”

Blankenship, who has selectively disagreed with the president throughout the campaign, responded by reminding voters of the president’s own role in Alabama. After initially releasing a statement calling Trump a “very busy man” who was being misled by the Republican establishment, Blankenship criticized Trump’s eventual support for Moore, in an interview with a local TV station this morning. “He recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama,” Blankenship said.