If there is a common thread running through almost all of Trump’s recommendations, it is his habit of rewarding his allies and punishing his enemies. So far, nationally, he has backed the main challengers of four House GOP incumbents and a sitting senator – all of whom have voted for impeachment.
When it comes to national and local races, Trump’s seal of approval is often tied in one way or another to his unsuccessful efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. The state he backed – Arizona, Georgia and Michigan – the common denominator is that his allegations of voter fraud were dismissed in these places by current Secretaries of State due to a lack of evidence.
In Arizona, where Trump approved the candidacy of State Representative Mark Finchem for Secretary of State this week, Finchem fits the Trump model. He is not the only Trump supporter in the GOP arena, but he is arguably the most committed. He argues that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, participated in the “Stop the Steal” movement, attended the Jan. 6 rally on the United States Capitol, and pushed conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon.
In Georgia, where three of the state’s top Republicans incurred Trump’s wrath for resisting his efforts to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory, Trump has been particularly active.
He supports Representative Jody Hice in a main challenge against GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – who has resisted Trump’s pleas to “find” more votes for him than those counted in Georgia – as well as Burt Jones in the open primary of the GOP for the lieutenant governor. Jones is part of a group of state senators who called on Gov. Brian Kemp to call an emergency special session as part of an effort to overturn Georgia presidential election results after the victory by Biden.
Trump has yet to approve the governor’s race. But after publicly denouncing Kemp for months, there is little doubt about the former president’s position.
For some Republicans, Trump’s efforts to eliminate GOP incumbents in federal and state races are at odds with party interests in a midterm election where Republicans are a striking distance from regaining control of Congress. As the party focuses on the November 2022 general election, Trump’s gaze is fixed on the primary election season which begins next spring.
“Donald Trump continues to add to the chaos within the Republican Party. It upsets the average Republican voter, ”said Georgia GOP Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Trump critic who is not running for re-election. “The only question that seems to matter when Trump is making his approvals is, ‘Are you with us on the electoral conspiracy stuff?’ No, ‘Do you believe in a smaller government? Do you support the police? Do you believe in less strict regulations? Instead, it’s “Are you with me?” “”
In Michigan, where Trump recently endorsed a main challenger to veteran GOP representative Fred Upton and picked favorites in two other state races, the former president’s influence is already being felt.
“His early supporters had an instant impact in Michigan political circles, shifting some from completely unknown status to candidates to be reckoned with,” observed John Sellek, a prominent Michigan-based Republican consultant.
“[Trump’s] the top picks clearly come with a tinge of revenge, ”he said. “The result of the primaries is still uncertain, due to the redistribution and evolution of the races. But its impact on the appointments decided at the state GOP convention is likely total and comprehensive. We should expect more approvals to come. “
With dozens of endorsements in House, Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and State legislative contests – not to mention his long-standing involvement in the selection of state GOP presidents – Trump intends to keep remaking the party in its image. These efforts would stand him in good stead should he run for president again in 2024.
Many Republicans see this as a welcome prospect as the party base has moved in a direction more closely aligned with Trump’s policies.
“Before 2015, there is good reason to believe that the Beltway version of the Republican Party had strayed from the grassroots,” said Drew McKissick, President of the Trump-endorsed South Carolina GOP.
“What you saw in 2016 – with Trump defeating 16 other qualified Republican candidates – was the elastic band coming back. The base had not moved. The Beltway had done it, ”he said. “So there’s a continuous reset going on; people need to reorient themselves where the party base really is. “
From McKissick’s perspective, half of primary voters identify as “Trump First voters” and only 43% identified themselves as having primary loyalty to the GOP, according to a recent Echelon Insights poll.
“That’s what the base wants,” said Joe Kent, a Trump-backed military veteran running against Washington state representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump. “The only good that came out of the 2020 election and impeachment votes was that we were able to truly identify establishment Republicans, country club Republicans, name-only Republicans, and make them vulnerable. “
Trump’s practical approach of choosing sides in the party primaries contrasts with the style of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who generally refused to embark on contested primaries.
Tim Murtaugh, the former director of communications for Trump’s campaign, said Trump’s endorsements are a manifestation of what party voters want.
“President Trump’s America First philosophy has become one of the fundamental tenets of the party,” said Murtaugh, spokesperson for Kelly Tshibaka, a Trump-backed main challenger to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. “He supports candidates who believe in the same thing. That’s where the party is now and it’s because of Trump.
Murtaugh also works for Harriet Hageman’s primary campaign in Wyoming, which was approved last week by Trump to take on his main Republican target, Representative Liz Cheney, the most recognizable Republican to vote for her second impeachment.
“President Trump maintains unprecedented influence over the Republican Party. As we see in elections across the country, there is only one path for candidates to be successful: the Trump path, ”a Trump spokesperson said. “Not surprisingly, President Trump is already 10-0 in the Republican election. He will continue to weigh in in the races to breed the best candidates, while continuing to eliminate RINOs and sold-out sales. “
To varying degrees, Trump’s involvement in the Senate and House primaries against the incumbents puts him in conflict with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who are mandated to protect their members.
Trump’s aggressive role in the open Senate primaries is already exacerbating tensions with McConnell, who has made it clear that eligibility – not allegiance to Trump – should be the supreme standard for backing a candidate.
In the swing state of Pennsylvania, where support for Trump has become a litmus test in the overcrowded GOP primary to succeed retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey, the former president recently endorsed military veteran and author Sean Parnell.
Trump has so far done little beyond issuing statements of support. He has given some candidates a boost in the form of a mention at rallies or an appearance at a fundraiser, but strategists say he will need to start investing much more time and money. ‘money in candidates approved to see any kind of significant impact.
An endorsement from Trump is “what is at stake at the table,” said Matt Gorman, GOP strategist and former director of communications for the Congressional Republican National Committee. “The real key is what else he’s willing to do for you. A Rallye ? Money collector ? Ads in your name? This is where the breakthrough happens most of the time.
Former Rep. Ryan Costello, who is considering a candidacy for the open Pennsylvania Senate seat and has criticized Trump since retiring from the House, said Trump had given so many endorsements in so many races that it was impossible to determine the net effect of it all.
“Obviously, Trump is a bookkeeper,” he said. “Is Trump a kingmaker in a Republican primary?” In many cases, yes. In a secure Republican seat, you will have a certain type of candidate that he approves of and who wins. But in the swivel seats, you could have a candidate Trump win the primary and lose the general because Trump is so toxic. Trump doesn’t mind. But that’s a problem when you want to gain more seats halfway through.