Donald Trump started his week on Monday by urging voters in West Virginia’s upcoming Republican Senate primary not to vote for the candidate who, in many respects, most closely resembles him.
Trump tweeted that people headed to the polls on Tuesday night shouldn’t vote for Don Blankenship, a coal baron and convicted criminal who served a year in prison for working to subvert federal safety regulations after 29 people were killed in a mine owned by his Massey Energy Company.
Blankenship’s campaign has been punctuated by a series of bizarre and frequently racist gaffes. He has been targeted in recent weeks by the national GOP, who see his candidacy as a potential repeat of Roy Moore’s disastrous Alabama Senate campaign. (Ironically, Trump enthusiastically endorsed Moore even after he was credibly accused of sexual misconduct and assault.)
Following Trump’s tweet, Blankenship replied with a statement deflecting any criticism from the president and instead blaming the “establishment”:
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.
“No one, and I mean no one, will tell us how to vote,” Blankenship added, noting that “some have said” he is “Trumpier than Trump.” In fact, he himself is the one who has said it.
While Trump’s criticism of Blankenship—which is notably based solely on electability, and not the vile personal politics which both men seem to share—may have been intended to deny the candidate the GOP nomination, it may well help to deliver it to Blankenship on a platter. By directing voters to several alternative candidates without stating a clear preference, Trump’s tweet might help split votes between the two, leaving Blankenship a path through the middle.