Trump Jr. accuses NC congressional candidate of ‘made-up’ Matt Gaetz endorsement

Donald Trump Jr. waded into a North Carolina congressional race Wednesday after learning that a candidate was claiming Rep. Matt Gaetz’s endorsement without permission.

Trump said he was not “shocked to hear” that former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker “made it up” that Gaetz endorsed Walker.

Gaetz is now adding his name to a list of four other Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, Rep. Gus Bilirakis and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have either told McClatchy they never offered Walker an endorsement or that they asked him to remove their names from his endorsement list.

For Gaetz, he falls under a “never.”

“Congressman Gaetz has not endorsed anyone in N.C. 06 and he has made clear to Mr. Walker that he has no plans to be involved in that race,” a Gaetz spokesman told McClatchy Wednesday in a written statement.

Gaetz’s staff contacted McClatchy to provide the statement after learning about a flyer from Walker’s team claiming Gaetz’s endorsement.

The campaign trail

Walker told McClatchy Wednesday that it was an old flyer not used since November.

But his opponent’s team says otherwise.

Jonathan Felts, a campaign advisor to Addison McDowell, told McClatchy that a Walker volunteer personally handed the flier to McDowell’s mother when she went to vote last Thursday. McDowell and Walker are among six Republicans battling to represent the Triad-area 6th Congressional District.

“My guess is there are a bunch of texts and phone calls being made by the Walker staff right about now frantically telling volunteers to burn all those flyers and deny having seen one before,” Felts said in a written statement. “This repeated habit of lying about endorsements really calls into question Walker’s integrity.”

Trump Jr. is currently hitting the campaign trail with McDowell, who is endorsed by his father, former President Donald Trump.

“Mark Walker tried as hard as anyone in this race to get my dad’s endorsement,” Trump Jr. told McClatchy in a written statement. “But my dad endorsed Addison McDowell because he’s authentic and Walker isn’t. When Walker was part of Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team pushing for immigration reform, my dad was trying to build the wall to protect our border.”

“I would be shocked if a real conservative like Matt Gaetz endorsed a moderate like Walker, but I’m not shocked at all to find out Walker made it up,” he added.

Walker’s rebuttal

Walker at first denied the existence of the flyer, until McClatchy sent him a photo of it.

He denies that they are being passed out at campaign sites.

He did confirm he doesn’t have Gaetz’s endorsement.

“Matt was very clear that he could not come out and support me,” Walker said. “That’s why he was not on this list that I reconfirmed a few weeks ago.”

When asked why he claimed it in November, he pointed to a WGHP article covering an event in Forsyth County where Gaetz served as keynote speaker.

During the speech, Gaetz offered support for Walker’s attempts at unseating Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning.

At the time, North Carolina’s General Assembly had just released new congressional maps, Manning had not yet announced her retirement plans, and candidates had not been able to file, meaning Gaetz would not yet have known who else was running in the race.

Who is Rep. Matt Gaetz?

Gaetz, a Republican from Florida and a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, has proven himself a formidable opponent in the U.S. House when another lawmaker gets on the wrong side of him. He is the man behind the movement that ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October.

In the days leading up to that ouster, McCarthy posted on social media to Gaetz to “Bring it on,” and Gaetz replied, “Just did.”

He’s the same lawmaker who Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, may have saved, when Rep. Mike Rogers lunged for him between votes when McCarthy was first elected speaker. Hudson yanked Rogers by the face and pulled him to the back of the chamber.

Gaetz is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, into whether he had sex with an underage girl, the New York Times reported.

Walker’s endorsement claim

Since October, the day Johnson became speaker, Walker has been touting that 40 members of Congress have endorsed his campaign. Gaetz’s name was not on that list.

He slowly has trickled out those names through social media posts, but didn’t release a full list until early February, a week after McClatchy requested it for review. That request came after the first three Republicans told McClatchy about problems with their names being included in previous statements.

Bilirakis’ name remained on the list of 40 despite telling Walker he could not longer use his endorsement. He withdrew it after learning that Walker’s opponent is Christian Castelli, who shares a fundraising committee with Bilirakis. After that, McClatchy asked Walker if any other member of Congress had reached out to him in a similar manner. He said no.

On Wednesday, he repeatedly pointed to the WGHP article and that at one point he tagged Gaetz in a social media post of that article saying he was humbled by Gaetz’s support. Gaetz liked the post, Walker was quick to point out.

He told McClatchy that he has over 60 endorsements from the local to the federal levels and that “there are three to four (who) have moved to neutral.”

“Every single member on that list of 40 that we posted a month ago or so, I doubled checked just to make sure there was no ambiguity or another story trying to come after our credibility,” Walker said. “I’ve been exonerated, but, that’s not the narrative, or the headline of the story.”