The 2022 primary season picks up steam in May, and the establishment media are obsessing over how candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump will fare, which supposedly will determine the influence he still commands over the Republican Party. Do his endorsements really mean that much, and, when the dust settles, who will be able to claim an arguably symbolic triumph? That most of Trump’s primary endorsements will win – which the media will dispute – is a highly likely scenario. There is a simple reason why Trump will inevitably take a victory lap, but his detractors already know they will be able to divine, in the primary tea leaves, an end to the Trump era. How are both of those things possible? Because that’s how the game is played. Perception is reality – depending on who creates that perception and who chooses to believe it.
Trump is officially backing a slew of candidates for Congress and state legislatures, as well as 15 gubernatorial candidates and 17 contenders for state-level executive positions (lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, or various commissioner offices). According to Ballotpedia tracking, the 45th president has thrown his hat in the ring for 17 GOP Senate candidates and 74 House incumbents or challengers. Add to that state-legislature endorsements and two county-level races in Texas, and it comes out to a total of 143.
Spin It to Win It
It is probably fair to say that, even if maybe 25 Trump-backed candidates, at any level, fail to win their primary races – and that is in no way a prediction – the anti-Trump media will claim Republican voters are turning away from the former president. Conversely, Trump will likely claim his influence is as weighty as ever if just 60% of the office-seekers he supported win their respective primaries. But how likely is that to happen?
Trump has a pretty good record when it comes to endorsements. For 2020, the last congressional election year, Ballotpedia gave Trump a 77% success rate – he endorsed 141 winners and 42 losers. And a lot of candidates have seen their polling numbers go up after a nod from the former commander-in-chief. He himself has claimed – fairly or not – that several contenders for various offices would likely not have won without his support. At the same time, he has been burned, endorsing a few individuals who, after they won their seats, turned against him.
Politico predicts the Trump camp is preparing for “a couple of ugly nights” this month, based on certain polls that suggest several candidates he backs are looking at tough races. But such articles smack of cherry-picking and the numbers suggest The Donald is well-positioned to tout his unflagging influence over the GOP even before the midterm elections in November.
In gubernatorial races, six of the 15 Trump endorsees are incumbents and four are running for open seats – where the current chief executives of those states are not seeking another term. Ten of the 17 GOP senators with his backing are running for another term, while four are hoping to capture open seats. As for House races, Trump is supporting 57 incumbents, eight challengers, and eight candidates campaigning for seats currently open. Given that incumbents are generally difficult to defeat, the former president is in all probability going to be able to claim that a large majority of those to whom he gave his support won out – and, of course, he will take some credit for that, whether his influence swung those races or not.
Meanwhile, the media will pounce on every instance in which the Trump-favored candidate loses. And there is always the mitigating factor of how many Republican voters are even aware that Trump has endorsed a particular individual. For example, while Trump has rescinded his endorsement of Mo Brooks, who is running for an open Senate seat in Alabama, a WPA Intelligence poll showed that less than half of Republican voters in that state (42%) knew, back in January, that Brooks had Trump’s support.
The lesson in all this? One should not read too deeply into primary results as a measure of how much clout Trump now has. That he is still considered by many conservatives to be the effective leader of the Republican Party – or at least the man with the most influence over the direction in which it is moving – is reasonably beyond dispute. It would appear close to certain that, for what it’s worth, Trump will score something upward of a 70% success rate in primary endorsements, and the left-wing media will gloat over every defeat. Then come the midterm elections and, with them, a fresh round of endorsements. And if the signs prove true and Democrats take a pummeling at the polls, the 45th president will bask in that outcome.
And so, it is indeed a matter of perspective and perception, and Trump is playing with a better hand than his critics. Only in 2024, were Trump to run for the White House and fail to secure the Republican nomination, will his detractors finally be able to declare Trumpism dead. But who at this point is willing to place a wager on that outcome?
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