Hedge fund manager and Donald Trump supporter Robert Mercer donated $300,000 to KelliPAC, a super PAC dedicated to helping former state Sen. Kelli Ward to defeat incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in next year's Republican primary, the Daily Beast reported.
According to Republican pollster Tony Fabrizo, who also worked on Trump's campaign, Mercer "catapulted to the top of the heap of right-of-center power brokers." During the 2016 campaign, Mercer donated $22.5 million to Republican candidates and PACs, the New Yorker reported in March.
Mercer's donation is the latest indicator that Trump supporters are preparing to take on Flake, who has been one of the president's most outspoken critics on the Republican side of the aisle.
According to Politico, the White House met with state treasurer Jeff DeWit, former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham and Republicans who are considering running against Flake in the primary election.
In a July 31 opinion piece for Politico, Flake said conservatives feel abandoned by the Republican Party "for reaching in despair for a candidate who offered oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions and managed to entertain them in the process."
Flake provided a road map for Trump-skeptical conservatives in his opinion piece, which included questioning the president's policy decisions:
So, where should Republicans go from here? First, we shouldn’t hesitate to speak out if the president “plays to the base” in ways that damage the Republican Party’s ability to grow and speak to a larger audience. Second, Republicans need to take the long view when it comes to issues like free trade: Populist and protectionist policies might play well in the short term, but they handicap the country in the long term. Third, Republicans need to stand up for institutions and prerogatives, like the Senate filibuster, that have served us well for more than two centuries.
During the 2016 election, Flake refused to endorse Trump. After "Access Hollywood" released the tape of Trump talking about groping and fondling women, Flake called on the presidential candidate to drop out of the race.
Because of the heated battle and constant criticism from Flake, Trump said he would be willing to spend $10 million of his own money to make sure the sitting senator is defeated during the 2018 election, Politico reported.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked last week about whether or not Trump planned to donate to any anti-Flake efforts. According to Sanders, the answer remains unclear in spite of Trump's prior statements.
“I'm not sure about any potential funding of a campaign,” Sanders said. “But I think that Sen. Flake would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president and [more on] passing legislation," the Los Angeles Times reported.
In addition to providing major funding for Trump's campaign and Kelli Ward's 2016 Senate bid against Sen. John McCain, Mercer has also donated major funds to Breitbart, a pro-Trump news site.
Although Trump has yet to publicly back any of Flake's challengers, he is keeping close tabs on the race, Politico reported.