Donald Trump

Some Trump Allies Want Him to Pull His Endorsement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Ahead of GOP Primary

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  • Donald Trump's team has heard from allies who are trying to encourage the former president to withdraw his support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • Abbott faces numerous Republican rivals in the primary, including former Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West and businessperson and former state Sen. Don Huffines.
  • Abbott has faced scrutiny for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic from both Democrats and conservative Republicans. He has also been criticized for how he managed last year's winter storm.
  • The Texas governor has a commanding lead in the polls, with early voting in the GOP primary slated to start next week.

Former President Donald Trump is facing pressure from Republican donors and operatives to rescind his endorsement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is entrenched in a primary election for his seat.

Trump's team has heard from allies who are trying to encourage the former president to withdraw his support for Abbott, according to people familiar with the matter. These people declined to be named in order to speak freely about the campaign behind the scenes to take on Abbott.

Trump endorsed Abbott for governor last year as the Texas Republican was one of the president's most vocal supporters. Abbott faces numerous Republican rivals in the primary, including former Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West and businessperson and former state Sen. Don Huffines.

The Texas governor is in the midst of 60 campaign stops throughout the state as he heads into the primary. Abbott, 64, has led many recent polls in the primary as he seeks a third term in office.

With many of the polls in Abbott's favor, it's unlikely that Trump will reverse course and pull his endorsement. In a GOP where Trump holds enormous sway and can swing large swaths of Republican voters on his own, maintaining the former president's endorsement could be critical to Abbott's chances of winning the gubernatorial primary. The primary takes place March 1, and early voting starts next week.

The people pressuring Trump include some of the wealthiest donors to his political organization, including those who regularly spend time with him at his private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, people briefed on the matter explained.

Abbott has faced scrutiny for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic from both Democrats and conservative Republicans. He has also been criticized for how he managed last year's winter storm, when the state saw massive blackouts, and for the deployment of Texas National Guard troops on the southern border with Mexico.

Representatives for Trump and Abbott's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

As Abbott faces some heat for his job performance, Huffines has received endorsements from at least two Trump allies: Jenna Ellis, one of the former president's previous legal advisors, and Katrina Pierson, a former advisor to Trump's 2020 campaign. Pierson ended up working as a consultant for the Huffines campaign.

Beyond the policy differences Abbott's opponents may have with him, including the governor's handling of the pandemic, various Trump allies have also taken issue with Mitch Carney, a reported Abbott campaign staffer. They have shared reports with the former president's office that Carney tweeted and retweeted posts critical of Trump.

Those Carney tweets were part of opposition research created by Abbott's opponents, a person noted.

One of the online articles about Carney was published by Just the News, a digital website founded by John Solomon, who as an opinion columnist for The Hill, authored stories that painted conspiracies involving the Ukrainian government, President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton.

After conducting a review of Solomon's work, The Hill said that the veteran journalist "failed to identify important details about key Ukrainian sources, including the fact that they had been indicted or were under investigation. In other cases, the sources were his own attorneys." Solomon has stood by his reporting.

Polling suggests Abbott has a comfortable primary lead with Trump's support in his pocket. A University of Texas at Tyler poll taken in January found that 59% of registered voters who are participating in the GOP primary would back Abbott.

West was the second choice, with a distant 6% of support. The survey had a margin of error of three percentage points.

If no candidate garners more than 50% of the vote, the primary will head to a two-person runoff.

It is unclear now how widespread Republican support would be for Trump rescinding his endorsement. A Paradigm Partners poll conducted for the West campaign found that 73% of more than 1,000 likely Republican voters in Texas surveyed believe Trump should reverse his support for Abbott. The poll has a margin of error of just over 2.5 percentage points.

The West campaign pointed CNBC to the candidate's prior statement on the polling results and declined to comment further on the survey.

"Lt. Col. West is more than happy to discuss the issues facing Texans. He is on the road right now listening to those he wishes to serve. The campaign is not focused on any other matters," Luke Twombly, the campaign's spokesperson, told CNBC on Wednesday in an email.

Though Abbott has been one of the more vocal Trump supporters on a variety of issues, his opponents have taken aim at some of his stances from earlier in the pandemic.

A Texas-based conservative outside group titled Grassroots America: We The People posted on its Facebook page last year that it would not endorse Abbott and has since hosted forums with his opponents.

The group claimed that Abbott went too far in how he closed businesses in Texas at the start of the pandemic and blasted him for his overall handling of the earlier shutdowns.

Abbott later would become a vocal opponent of Covid-related mandates. He issued executive orders banning businesses from requiring their employees to get vaccinated and prohibiting government entities from mandating people to wear masks that could protect them from the coronavirus.

The government entities that the executive ordered attempted to ban from enforcing mask mandates included school districts.

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