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Bill Straub: Cameron wrangled a hasty endorsement for governor from Trump, but what does it mean?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Former President Donald J. Trump despises Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, with “a broken-down old crow’” among the nicer things he’s had to say about him in recent months. McConnell, in return, has little use for Trump, declaring that he bears some responsibility for the seditious actions of his supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, even though he will support him if Trump is the GOP candidate for president in 2024.

So far so good.

Enter Daniel Cameron, the political creation of Mitch McConnell, currently serving as Kentucky attorney general, now seeking the Republican nomination for governor, seeking to displace Democrat Andy Beshear next year.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Cameron served as McConnell’s general counsel for a period, helping to shove through, among other things, the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch. The two men are as tight as ticks. It’s fair to say Cameron wouldn’t be holding his statewide position without the benevolence of McConnell, the godfather of the Kentucky Republican Party who, regardless of what anyone might think of him, raised the Bluegrass GOP from the ash heap upon his ascension to the Senate in 1984.

By embracing Cameron, a conservative African-American, McConnell gets an opportunity to refute, with little obvious success, the claim that Republicans don’t welcome Black folks into the fold with open arms, even though the party’s policies work to their detriment. And Cameron has adopted McConnell’s campaign stylings, using his position for political purposes, like suing Beshear in federal court for failing to implement the anti-abortion law enacted by the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly – even though the federal court has placed that very same anti-abortion law on hold.

It’s all about appealing to the yahoos. And Cameron has learned from the master.

Anyway, despite the conflict between his spiritual leader and Trump, the ghastly face of the new Republican Party, Cameron apparently sought the endorsement of the former president, whose support is thought by many Republicans to be manna from heaven for the chosen few, given his wild and baffling support from the party’s adherents.

According to Kentucky Fried Politics, a must read for any of the Commonwealth’s political junkies, Cameron sought the alliance through Donald Trump Jr., perhaps thrusting a bogus poll under the lad’s nose to convince his daddy to get on board while the getting was good.

Low and behold, Trump snapped up the bait, announcing in a statement, “At every level, Daniel has stood out, he will be a Great Governor of Kentucky, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

(By the way, the unnecessary capitalization belongs to Trump).

Cameron was pleased, particularly since, as Kentucky Fried Politics noted, he was reportedly coming off a disappointing fundraising period.

“With President Trump’s support, we are more ready than ever to take on the Beshear-Biden agenda that is failing our families and doesn’t reflect the values of our 120 counties,” Cameron said.

The endorsement doesn’t mark the first time Trump has thrown his support behind Cameron. He did so in 2019 when Cameron ran for attorney general. But that was world’s ago – back when Trump and McConnell were allies, uneasy allies but allies nonetheless, saying nice things about each other and working together to pack the Supreme Court with a bunch of liars who expressed adherence to previous decisions.

Now they are blood enemies and Cameron is playing both sides against the middle, although one might wonder if Cameron requested McConnell’s permission to approach Trump before he proceeded. McConnell, in turn almost certainly would have acquiesced, since power, not loyalty, is the only thing he knows.

Cameron, as attorney general, joined a legal brief filed by a group of Republican state attorneys general challenging Pennsylvania’s acceptance of mail-in ballots during the 2020 presidential election, a move viewed as political support for Trump’s challenge to the outcome, which showed him losing nationwide by 7 million votes to President Biden. That suit was tossed. But he refused to join another brief offered by Texas, which claimed that several states, including Georgia and Pennsylvania, acted unconstitutionally when they changed their elections laws.

But that’s not the only curious thing about this unholy trinity. The endorsement arrived about 11 months before the anticipated Republican gubernatorial primary, premature by any standards, particularly since several of the announced candidates, and other potential contenders, are actually closer to Trump and his views, such as they are, and his way of doing business than Cameron.

One person considering hopping in, as a matter of fact, is Kelly Craft, who Trump appointed to serve as the 30th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2019. She and her husband contributed a whole bunch of change – more than $2 million — to Trump’s successful 2016 campaign, which one might think would merit some consideration, especially from a money scrounge like Trump. She has also, it should be noted, been a consistent supporter of McConnell.

The early endorsement has led to speculation, unproven at this point, that Trump entered the fray thinking that the Republican gubernatorial primary is this year, rather than in 2023, and that the former president didn’t have all the facts at hand, which should come as a surprise to anyone who witnessed The Donald during his White House tenure.

Regardless, there is some question regarding how effective the ex-president’s endorsement might ultimately prove.

Trump constantly brags about the high percentage of winners that he maintains benefit from his endorsement, insisting that any number of candidates would have lost without his support. In some cases, such as with J.D. Vance, who won the nomination for the U.S Senate from Ohio, and Mehmet Oz, who also won an upper chamber nomination in Pennsylvania, he may have a point.

But in most cases Trump pumps up the numbers by endorsing candidates who are running without opposition or who are viewed as so far ahead they are virtually uncatchable. And in gubernatorial endorsements, his record is decidedly so-so, losing out on races in Georgia, Idaho and Nebraska.

And don’t forget he endorsed Matt Bevin’s re-election for governor, in both the 2019 primary and general election. You may recall how that turned pit.

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