At first, it appeared former President Donald Trump would play a role in New York’s 2022 Republican contests for Congress almost as soon as he left the White House.
In June 2021, one of Trump’s first post-presidency political targets was Rep. John Katko, who was the first House Republican to announce he would vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Not too long after that vote, the Onondaga County Conservative Party announced it would not support Katko in 2022. That party’s chairman, Bernie Ment, then received a letter from Trump that said "Great move -- Katko will never win again."
In the letter, Trump named-dropped Conservative Party leaders known largely in New York political circles.
“Find a candidate,” Trump added, with an underline for emphasis.
This was about a month after another New Yorker, Rep. Elise Stefanik, was chosen to replace Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House. Trump enthusiastically backed Stefanik for that position.
Since then, Trump has helped propel supporters of his to victory in various GOP primaries while advocating to oust the 10 House Republicans who impeached him, which was climaxed earlier this week with the primary defeat of Cheney for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat.
But since the public ire of Katko and the rise of Stefanik, Trump’s personal presence in his former home state’s elections has been noticeably absent. For his part, Katko announced in December he would not run for re-election, and former Rep. Tom Reed, who didn’t vote to impeach Trump but wrote an op-ed declaring he should be censured after Jan. 6, resigned from Congress in May. Trump endorsed strong ally Rep. Claudia Tenney in the new 24th District, but has not endorsed either of the two Republicans vying to replace Katko in the new 22nd District, nor has he weighed in on the two special elections for the outgoing 23rd and 19th districts, both of which he won in the 2016 presidential contest (Biden narrowly beat Trump in the 19th in 2020).
Nowhere is Trump’s silence more defining than the contentious Republican primary for Western New York's 23rd Congressional District, which pits state GOP chairman Nick Langworthy against former GOP gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino, both of whom are self-prescribed Trump loyalists with the merits to back that up.
Paladino served as New York co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign and recently told Spectrum News 1 that he believes, if he is elected to Congress, that he can help the former president if he seeks the presidency again in 2024.
Langworthy has visited Trump at the White House several times, saying in February 2020 that Trump is very in tune with New York politics.
“When the Republican Party in New York needed new leadership, President Trump called on me to turn things around,” Langworthy said back in June.
Both their staunch support and ties to Trump may be the reason why he hasn’t formally endorsed one or the other.
"I'd be really surprised if he weighed in in this race. Not only are they both long-time allies, supporters, big boosters of Donald Trump, but they also have a lot of different Trump friends on each side," veteran lobbyist and analyst Jack O'Donnell told Spectrum News 1 in July.
A similar situation may have prevented Trump’s involvement in the Republican primary race for governor this spring. While the state party backed U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin from the start — a Long Island congressman who heavily supported Trump during his presidency and voted against certifying the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6 — the primary race also involved Andrew Giuliani, the son of Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, who also served in the Trump White House.
That being said, with the primary over, Trump will appear at a fundraiser for Zeldin’s campaign on Sept. 4 in New Jersey.
Then there is an unusual recent example counteracting the Trump neutrality, with Trump weighing in on the Democratic primary race for New York's 10th District, offering a so-called endorsement of Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who is facing off against Rep. Jerry Nadler. Neither candidate took it seriously.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Trump’s representatives on Friday for comment, but has not yet heard back.
Early voting for New York's primaries for Congress is underway, with primary day on Aug. 23.