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WASHINGTON (AP) — At the invitation of Donald Trump, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks recently led a small group of House Republicans to the former president’s New Jersey golf club, where they dined on beef tenderloin, posed for photos and briefed him on strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.
Banks tweeted a picture of himself and Trump grinning widely while flashing a thumbs-up after the session in June. “It was entirely focused on the future of the Republican Party,” he said.
Whatever that future may hold, the 41-year-old Banks is working aggressively to play a prominent role in it. A politician with mountaintop ambition, he is rising in the ranks of the House Republicans — and in the estimation of the mercurial Trump.
Banks’ overnight trip to Trump’s Bedminster resort punctuated a political journey from a county council seat in small-town northeast Indiana to prominence in Congress in little more than a decade. It also served as a testament to the conversion Banks underwent from Trump critic to unapologetic supporter.
Recently selected to lead the Republican Study Committee, a powerful voting bloc that includes most members of the House Republican conference, Banks is now tasked with crafting a policy agenda that bridges mainstream, Reagan- era conservatism and Trump’s grievance-driven populism. If successful, it’s a project that could catapult Banks higher in the House leadership.
On Wednesday, Banks was invited to join Trump for a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where the former president was expected to rail against illegal immigration.
“Jim understands there’s no future for the Republican Party without Trump supporters. But he also understands traditional movement conservative principles need to have a future,” said Luke Messer, a former Indiana congressman who retired in 2019 after a failed Senate run. “He is trying to work both halves of that equation and his colleagues recognize his talent.”
Like other Republican strivers, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 ranking member of the House GOP, his evolution was swift. Banks supported special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia and once said that “America deserved better” after a video emerged of Trump discussing sexually grabbing women without their consent.
He now says Trump’s 2016 election was a “gift“ that could make Republicans “a majority party for a long time to come.”
While Banks has proved politically adroit in dealing with Trump, his colleagues also say he grasps policy as well.
“There are some members of Congress who excel in the political arena and don’t do as much in the policy arena, and vice versa. But Jim is one of the rare people who do both,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., who served a previous term leading the group Banks now does.
Figures such as Banks have a long history in Congress. So long, in fact, that a 19th cen- tury nautical term has historically been applied to their ilk.
“He’s a trimmer,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, who studies congressional history. “It means a guy who trims his sails depending on which way the wind is blowing. In his case, he is a serial trimmer.”
Banks describes it differently.
“I was very skeptical,” Banks said of his early views of Trump. But, Banks said, “he won me over more and more every single day by doing what he said he was going to do.”
Banks’ critics use another term: political expedience.
“Everything Jim Banks does is based on how it will help him politically,” said Gary Snyder, a Republican-turned- Democrat who writes a politics newsletter in Indiana. The two were close earlier in Banks’ political career before a falling out when Snyder’s wife ran against Banks as a libertarian in 2016.
“He’s cunning and manipulative. But he plays the game very well,” Snyder said.
Banks’ beginnings trace to a trailer park in Columbia City, Indiana, near Fort Wayne. His father worked as an axle- maker for the Dana Corp., while his mother cooked in a nursing home. The family was largely apolitical, Banks has said, though his parents did vote for Democrats. Like much of Indiana, by the time Banks was elected to Congress on the same night Trump won the presidency, his father had become a convert.
“My dad could not have cared as much about (my election) as he did about Donald Trump becoming president,” Banks fondly recalls at GOP dinners in Indiana.
Banks, the first in his family to go to college, got his initial taste of politics when he joined the Indiana University College Republicans. That’s where he met his wife, Amanda. Afterward, he went to work for now-former Indiana Rep. John Hostettler, then honed his political instincts working on mostly unsuccessful campaigns in Ohio, Indiana and Colorado.
He won a tight primary race with the help of the conserva- tive group Club for Growth, which spent more than $250,000 on ads. The hard- line House Freedom Caucus spent $100,000 supporting his bid, though he ultimately chose not join the group.
Banks’ voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump sup- porters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Banks’ rise echoes that of another Indiana congressman who parlayed his leadership of the Republican Study Committee to reach broader prominence: former Vice President Mike Pence.