Kevin Hayslett, a Republican running for Congress in the St. Petersburg, Florida, area, has a prominent photo of President Trump on his flyers and calls himself a "Trump Republican."
He also boasts he will reinstate the former president’s immigration policies.
It’s an association that could make some think Trump has endorsed him. He hasn’t. That’s been bestowed on Anna Paulina Luna in the primary.
It’s a tactic seen elsewhere that endorsed Trump Republicans, like Luna, are decrying.
"If someone is willing to lie about being endorsed by the president in order to get elected, imagine what else they’ll lie about," she told Florida’s Voice in late July.
"Trump chose not to endorse Kevin for a reason. Voters should ask Kevin why."
Hayslett’s campaign did not return an email seeking comment.
The drama unfolding in Florida’s 13th District, a seat west of Tampa that leans Republican, is not isolated. Several cases of candidates claiming the Trump mantle have been seen throughout the primary season.
It’s also an issue that Trump and his allies are aware of.
"Lots of candidates pretend to have the support of President Trump," former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Politico last year. "Most are full of s**t. You will know when President Trump endorses someone."
James Blair, a senior strategist for the Luna campaign, accuses Hayslett of being a late convert to supporting Trump.
"Kevin Hayslett’s sad and cynical campaign strategy is to mislead voters in the hopes they become too confused to see him for who he really is," he told Newsmax. "The fact is that Kevin Hayslett never supported President Trump before getting into this race ... he has successfully misled and confused a lot of Republican primary voters, which has an impact."
The scenario is being played out across the country, as many Republicans — fully cognizant of Trump’s popularity with conservatives and the base of the party — want to associate with the former president and his policies.
In June 2021, nine months before Trump endorsed anyone in the primary, it was reported that "people close to the president are not happy" after then-Ohio Senate candidate Jane Timken published a photograph of Trump and herself on her website’s "endorsements" page.
Similarly, Josh Mandel, who also was running in the race to replace retiring Republican Rob Portman, sent out letters saying "President Trump is counting on us" on the envelope.
It’s become common enough that the former president has often pushed back.
Trump reportedly became irritated after hearing that Lynda Blanchard, who served in his administration as U.S. ambassador to Slovenia, was "giving … the impression she had his backing."
The Trump camp also denounced as fake when a release — looking like it came from Trump’s Save America PAC — was distributed claiming that the former president endorsed New Jersey Republican candidate for governor, Hirsh Singh.
Even candidates who eventually received Trump’s endorsement have been rebuked by Trump’s aides, such as Pennsylvania’s Republican nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, who claimed in a May 2021 radio interview that Trump encouraged him to run, saying "He said, Doug, run and I’ll campaign for you."
Marketing strategist Collin Pruett of the American Principles Project says it is easy to understand why so many candidates want the Trump association, even if it means pushing boundaries on endorsement claims.
"Politics is a dirty business, and Trump’s endorsement turns out the base," he said. "[Candidates] want to receive the Trump bump, and those trying to fake the Trump endorsement are deceptive. They are trying to ride that wave."
Texas-based Republican strategist Vlad Davidiuk agrees.
"The power of a Trump endorsement cannot be overstated, especially in a tight primary race," he said. "Republican voters have typically relied upon endorsements as a signal that a candidate carried the bona fides for local office."
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