At the close of last weekend’s fundraiser for U.S. Sen. candidate Kelly Tshibaka in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump invited Tshibaka and her husband, Niki Tshibaka, to join him for a private dinner in the dining room upstairs at the six-star resort in Florida. It was just the three of them, with Donald Trump Jr. and his fiancé Kimberly Guilfoyle joining them briefly. And the dinner was somewhat of a strategy meeting.
Kelly said they talked extensively about the new ranked choice voting system that Alaskans will use this November, and she was struck by not only how familiar Trump is with the novel voting scheme, but how it may work strategically for candidates. Trump was pleased to learn that other Republicans had not jumped into the race, which now features main candidate Tshibaka, a Republican, going up against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Democrat Elvi Gray-Jackson.
This was Tshibaka’s second time meeting with Trump, whom she describes as keenly interested in business, in outcomes, and in strategy.
“Whenever you talk to Trump, you’ve got to be on your toes. You’ve got to know your facts. He’s very astute. He is a corporate businessman, and he is interested in results. You have to be ready,” Tshibaka said. “My background involves a lot of strategic planning, and I’m target driven.” In other words, Tshibaka can speak Trump’s business language, even over prime rib at his fancy resort.
As they dined on the massive outdoor balcony with its iconic tropical plants and polished pebble floors, Trump agreed that Republicans can be their own worst enemies, and that he hoped Alaska Republicans would commit to a winning strategy, even with ranked choice voting.
Tshibaka ran through the data, the past turnout numbers, and the details of ranked choice voting with Trump, and the two of them noodled through the various potential scenarios that will have Tshibaka, Murkowski, Gray-Jackson, and likely a fourth name on the November ballot. Voters in Alaska will rank candidates from their first to last preference. The person with the least amount of votes drops off and the second-place votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. The redistributing of votes continues until a candidate reaches 51 percent.
Trump was fascinated with the math of it all. He has a burning desire to get Murkowski out of office due to many reasons, including her trying to get a Jan. 6 investigation going in the Senate against him, and her rubber stamping Biden’s plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. Murkowski has always been in opposition to Trump, and during his presidency, her dislike for him was more than obvious to Alaskans, 53.5 percent of whom voted for his re-election. He blames Murkowski for ruining Alaska’s economic recovery because she secretly supported Joe Biden, and she confirmed Biden’s nominee to the Department of Interior, which has since shut down Alaska’s oil potential.
Tshibaka said opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain was important to Trump from the beginning of his presidency, when he realized that no one had been able to accomplish it over decades. The Biden-Murkowski outcome has disappointed him, because he cares about Alaskans.
“When I heard nobody else could do it, I said we have to get this done,” Tshibaka recalled Trump saying over dinner. Then, when Murkowski enabled Biden and Sec. of Interior Deb Haaland, ANWR’s “10-02” development area went back into the vault, a blow to America’s energy security.
Tshibaka also told Trump about her plan to focus on rural Alaska during her campaign. She has spent time in over 40 rural communities, sometimes sleeping on floors, because “nothing replaces that eye-to-eye contact,” she said. Rural Alaskans told her that Murkowski only visits them once every six years. Tshibaka said the people of King Cove understand that the reason they don’t have a road is because of Murkowski — she voted to confirm Judge Sharon Gleason, voted to confirm former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and voted to confirm current Interior Secretary Haaland. She is not willing to give up on votes in rural Alaska, just because those votes historically go for the Democrat or Murkowski.
Trump recommitted to traveling to Alaska this summer to rally for Tshibaka’s campaign, and the two talked about timing — should he visit before the primary or after? They left it undecided — again, looking at it as a strategic decision.
“I also remember that he also said he always made it a point to stop in Alaska when he was flying because he loves our state and loves Alaskans,” Tshibaka said.
Trump was also very impressed with Niki Tshibaka, and as he shook his hand at the end of the dinner, he told Niki that he now understood why Niki is “so popular.”
“He really likes Niki,” Kelly Tshibaka said.
Hers was one of the biggest fundraisers held at Mar-a-Lago that didn’t involve the super-wealthy donors of Florida. The attendees were mostly Alaskans and she thinks the fundraiser brought in about $450,000 for her campaign, give or take a few.
“One of the biggest fundraisers was for Hershel Walker, but that was a Palm Beach crowd,” she said. “For our fundraiser, it was Alaskans who made it happen.”