- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Jeff Sessions is out of office, Rep. Duncan Hunter is under indictment and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio won a presidential pardon, but hasn’t won much else.

President Trump’s earliest supporters have not fared well, for the most part.

The travails of those who worked for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign have been well documented. Former Chairman Paul Manafort is in jail, snared by special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Former national security aide Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and turned state’s evidence. Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon took a White House job, then lost it.

But those kinds of shakeups happen in any campaign or White House. A remarkable run of ill luck has befallen many of the politicians who backed Mr. Trump.

The only two members of Congress indicted since 2017 happen to be the two who first endorsed Mr. Trump. Another lost her seat in a Republican primary just months after backing Mr. Trump.

The only senator to endorse him, Mr. Sessions, was unceremoniously ousted as attorney general last year.

“Because of Trump, a lot of people had to suffer,” said Mr. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who became the president’s first high-profile backer in January 2016. “Although on a smaller scale, I’m a good example of that. I feel for some of these guys; they are going after them to get to him.”

Months after Mr. Arpaio backed Mr. Trump, he would be indicted by the Obama Justice Department on charges of criminal contempt of court. He would then lose his bid for re-election in November.

A judge found him guilty of the contempt charge in July 2017, but Mr. Trump stepped in with a presidential pardon.

Even that hasn’t quelled matters, though. The president’s opponents are in court even now trying to usurp the chief executive’s pardon.

Amid those headwinds, Mr. Arpaio lost a bid to win the U.S. Senate seat from Arizona last year. Now he’s suing detractors and he has once again thrown his hat in the political ring, announcing last weekend he would seek the sheriff’s job again in 2020.

He plans on doing so backing Mr. Trump all the way.

“I support Trump from the heart, you understand?” he said.

The travails of Mr. Trump’s early backers are all the more noticeable perhaps because he had so few of them. For the most part, the party’s politicians kept him at arm’s length — many because they were convinced he would lose.

“Historically, it has been rare for a major party nominee to have as few endorsements as Trump had in 2016,” said Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington. “It’s an indication of his outsider status as well as another marker of how remarkable the shift in the GOP has been post-election toward allying with Trump so unfailingly.”

Like Mr. Arpaio, those who did back Mr. Trump usually saw themselves as outsiders — such as Mr. Hunter and Rep. Chris Collins, the first two House Republicans to endorse Mr. Trump in 2016.

Mr. Collins held onto his New York seat by the barest of margins last year as he fended off questions about charges against him. The FBI arrested Mr. Collins and his son, Cameron, a year ago, charging them with insider trading and giving false statements to investigators.

The Collinses have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from a biopharmaceutical company of which Mr. Collins was a board member and his son a major shareholder.

His office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In Mr. Hunter’s case, the federal case involves campaign money allegedly spent improperly on personal matters, and he and his wife were indicted the same month Mr. Collins and his son were arrested.

Federal agents reportedly began looking into Mr. Hunter’s campaign spending in 2017, following a complaint from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The congressman’s wife pleaded guilty in June to a corruption charge, citing her husband as a co-conspirator in the alleged scheme to use some $250,000 in campaign money on personal expenses.

Questions sent to Mr. Hunter, 42, a former Marine who followed his father into Congress, were deferred to his legal team, which declined comment.

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, long a leading conservative pushing for an immigration crackdown, backed Mr. Trump in late February 2016, saying his tough talk on border issues was welcome news for the GOP.

Mr. Kobach would flirt with offers of jobs in the Trump administration in 2017 and ended up vice chairman of the president’s voter-integrity commission. That effort crumbled in 2018 amid a mountain of legal challenges, and Mr. Kobach instead mounted a bid for Kansas governor, where he unseated the sitting Republican governor in a primary but lost the general election.

Mr. Kobach then vied to be Mr. Trump’s immigration czar, but his chances soured after someone in the process leaked his list of demands, creating an embarrassing week of coverage that likely helped doom his chances.

To be sure, not all elected officials who jumped on the Trump bandwagon early have seen such a decline in their fortunes.

Then-Rep. Kevin Cramer announced support for Mr. Trump in April 2016, as the primaries were winding down but before the nominating convention. Mr. Cramer would go on to easily defeat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota’s Senate race last year.

Mr. Cramer recalled huddling with Mr. Hunter, Mr. Collins and Mr. Sessions — the lone outposts of Trump support in Congress — during 2016, meetings at which Rick Dearborn would serve as a liaison to the Trump camp, and watching with delight as both his and Mr. Trump’s fortunes rose.

“I’d see taglines that described me as an ‘energy adviser to the Trump campaign,’ but it’s not like I was checking with anyone about what I said,” he told The Washington Times. “Certainly the status of being associated with Trump was good for me. It really was good for me. I wound up being viewed as more legitimate.”

After talking to constituents and studying the state, Mr. Cramer said it was clear to him early in 2016 that Mr. Trump enjoyed the support of most North Dakotans, even if that bunch did not include GOP elders in the state. Consequently, he did not think he was jeopardizing his career by backing Mr. Trump early.

But he is aware of how others who shared his early support of Mr. Trump seem to have run afoul of powerful interests.

“I do think there are people in the Swamp who view those of us associated with Donald Trump as the enemy,” Mr. Cramer said. “What I worry is that even two full terms could hardly bust these bureaucrats up. I can see even today where a lot of them are just gritting their teeth and says, ‘We’ll wait these bastards out,’ but I want to bust up the club.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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