Early results bolster Trump’s power over the GOP
Talk of former President Trump’s loosening grip on the GOP may be overdone, as evidenced by Tuesday’s key results in states like Arizona and Michigan.
Candidates backed by Trump have won victories in the Senate primaries in Arizona, the GOP gubernatorial race in Michigan, as well as the House and Secretary of State primaries.
Overall, the results show that Trump is still a powerful force in the GOP, even if questions about his viability as a 2024 presidential candidate persist.
“I think that should put to rest this idea that I think some people in the party wanted Trump to lose influence when he clearly hasn’t,” said Andy Surabian, GOP strategist and former Trump White House official.
Questions have swirled in recent weeks about Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, prompted in large part by compelling hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riots on Capitol Hill that revealed new details about Trump’s inaction amid the violence and his refusal to condemn his supporters.
Trump also had a fairly weak performance in the Georgia primaries and subsequent ballots, with several endorsed candidates losing. Then last month, a New York Times poll showed Republican voters were split on whether Trump would run again in 2024.
But Tuesday’s primaries were overall a success for Trump.
Blake Masters won the Arizona Senate Republican primary with Trump’s backing. Kari Lake, Trump’s choice in the gubernatorial primary there, held a narrow lead on Wednesday night and appeared poised to retain Karrin Taylor Robson, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence and the governor of Arizona Doug Ducey (R). And Trump’s favorite candidate in the race for Secretary of State, Holocaust denier Mark Finchem, won his primary.
In Michigan, Tudor Dixon won the gubernatorial nomination after a late Trump endorsement. Rep. Pete Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in 2021, narrowly lost to John Gibbs, who had Trump’s backing.
Eric Schmitt emerged from a crowded field in the Missouri Senate GOP primary to take the nomination after Trump endorsed “Eric,” without specifying whether he meant Schmitt or Greitens, the former governor. But this decision also allowed the former president to claim victory in this race.
Trump’s only real flaws appeared to be in Washington state, where two members of Congress who voted to impeach him after the Capitol riots were on course to win their primaries.
“The endorsements are no more powerful or conclusive than the endorsements from last night. I wonder if anyone will write or report this? I was just asking?” Trump posted Wednesday morning on Truth Social, his fledgling social media platform.
“I ruled the whole council!” he added in a later post.
The former president’s track record for endorsements has been particularly strong in primaries where multiple candidates are vying for the nomination.
A GOP strategist also noted that there are few examples of Republicans winning a primary being vocally anti-Trump. Even people who have weathered Trump-backed primaries, like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), still generally support the former president.
Instead, Trump’s staunchest critics who are up for re-election in November have chosen to retire or face defeat.
The starkest example is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who faces a primary election on Aug. 16. Cheney has been a top Trump critic for more than a year, voting to impeach the former president and serving as vice president. of the Capitol Riot Investigation Committee.
A poll released last month by the Casper Star Tribune found Cheney trailing Trump-backed Harriet Hageman by 22 percentage points.
“Trump should be encouraged by the performance of his candidates last night. After Cheney’s destruction to come, Trump will be in a prime position to launch his campaign and get through his primary smoothly,” said John Thomas, a Republican consultant who works on House campaigns.
While Trump remains the dominant figure in the GOP and has helped shape the outcome of several primaries, the next test will come in November when his candidates face a wider range of voters.
Trump allies believe the political environment will be so bad for Democrats, particularly if inflation remains high, that even those who are currently trailing in the polls — like Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania — could prevail.
But others are less certain.
Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Arizona who has worked on campaigns there for years, argued that candidates like Lake, Masters and Finchem, who have tied their entire candidacy to Trump, and in some cases specifically to his false claim that the 2020 election was rigged will struggle to win over independent voters and even some moderate Republicans in a general election in a purple state.
“The stranglehold was demonstrated last night that its candidates in highly competitive primaries still prevailed,” Coughlin said. “So the party itself is Trump’s party. And so, is that enough to win an Arizona general election in November? I do not believe that. You’re going to have to do something more than that to win the general election in November. »