Earlier today, President Donald Trump wrote a tweet urging West Virginians not to cast their votes for Don Blankenship, a former business executive and candidate for the United States Senate, in the midterm elections this year. The president intervened a day before the West Virginia primary.
“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way!” the president wrote at 6:53 a.m. PST.
He further urged his followers to “Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey,” a reference to last year’s embarrassing Republican loss in Alabama.
To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
It didn’t take long for Blankenship to respond.
In a statement issued via his official website, Blankenship claimed the president “doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary” and accused the “establishment” of “misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the President’s agenda.”
The President is a very busy man and he doesn’t know me, and he doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary. The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the President’s agenda.
West Virginians are not going to vote for candidates who have failed to address the drug epidemic, aligned themselves with abortionists, and have never created a job.
I will win the primary and I will beat Joe Manchin.
Blankenship pledged to fulfill West Virginians’ demands for “more jobs, an end to the drug epidemic, and an honest government.”
West Virginians want more jobs, an end to the drug epidemic, and an honest government. I will will [sic] do the job that [Attorney General Patrick] Morrisey and [Congressman Evan] Jenkins can’t do and have not done.
I am the only candidate that has beaten Joe Manchin, and I have done it twice. In the history of West Virginia, no one has been more supportive of the Republican Party and conservative causes than I have been.
Neither of my opponents can beat Joe Manchin without my support, but I will beat Joe Manchin even without the support of the establishment.
Blankenship ended his statement with a reminder to West Virginia––among the most conservative states in the nation, where support for President Trump is high––that his “enemies are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton” and declared himself “Trumpier than Trump.”
West Virginia voters should remember that my enemies are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and my opponents would not even be running as Republicans had I not resurrected the Republican Party in West Virginia.
Tomorrow, West Virginia will send the swamp a message—no one, and I mean no one, will tell us how to vote.
As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it.
The statement quickly earned rebukes from both Morrisey and Jenkins.
In a tweet, Morrissey said Blankenship “would be a disaster for West Virginia.”
.@realDonaldTrump is exactly right. @DonBlankenship would be a disaster for West Virginia and would get trounced by @Sen_JoeManchin. Help Trump and the conservative fighter defeat this convicted criminal. #wvsen https://t.co/tgpuXpEDY5
— AG Patrick Morrisey (@MorriseyWV) May 7, 2018
In a statement of his own, Jenkins said that he was “proud to have President Trump’s support.” (The president has made no such endorsement.)
Blankenship’s statement comes after a New York Times report revealed that Trump decided to write his tweet after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged him to intervene.
Mr. Trump’s decision to speak out on the race came after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whom Mr. Blankenship has targeted in a deeply personal manner, urged the president in a telephone call on Sunday to weigh in against the controversial former coal executive, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation.
The Times report notes that a Blankenship victory would be “highly embarrassing” for the president:
The president has felt burned by Republicans when he injected himself into other races only to see his preferred candidates fall short. A victory by Mr. Blankenship would be highly embarrassing to Mr. Trump, coming on the heels of his inability to lift party nominees in Pennsylvania earlier this year and in Alabama last December when Democrats claimed a Senate victory in a reliably Republican state.
White House aides and Senate Republicans have been discussing for the last week whether the president should comment on the primary and were in agreement that he should if it became clear Mr. Blankenship could win, three officials familiar with the deliberations said.
West Wing insiders say that the decision for Trump to weigh in on the West Virginia primary is less about Trump than it is about McConnell, whom Blankenship attacked in a recent campaign ad.
“Swamp Captain Mitch McConnell has given millions of jobs to China People,” Blankenship said in one commercial, alluding to the shipping business owned by McConnell’s father-in-law. Blankenship referred to McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” in another spot, a reference to unsubstantiated claims that one of McConnell’s father-in-law’s ships smuggled drugs into the United States.
The Weekly Standard reports that internet polls conducted by Blankenship’s rivals found Blankenship slightly ahead, with 31 percent. Jenkins came in second (28 percent) and Morrisey came in third (27 percent). Republicans have been sounding the alarm, saying that Blankenship’s controversial past could undo their bid to unseat Joe Manchin, the Democratic incumbent who has been critical of the Trump administration and its policies.
Blankenship, the former Chairman and CEO of the Massey Energy Company, was indicted in 2014 before a federal grand jury on conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and securities fraud for his role in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, in which 29 miners died. In 2015, Blankenship was found guilty of one misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards was sentenced to 1 year in jail and fined $250,000.