Absolute loyalty to Trump is only part of the change this class of candidates would herald. There are also institutional implications for the Senate. The bipartisan infrastructure deal that Senator Rob Portman of Ohio helped negotiate? Six of the top GOP candidates vying to replace him rejected him.
At least five current members of the House have announced they are running for vacant Senate seats, almost all more conservative than the senators they would replace.
Most newcomers would speed up the GOP’s transition from tea party to Trump party, complicating the job of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who broke with Trump after the Jan.6 riots that led to the president’s second impeachment.
“Trump reshaped the Republican Party. We are now a party of blue collar workers. We are a first American party, ”said Michael Whatley, president of the North Carolina GOP. “It’s a different party than it was when [retiring Missouri Sen.] Roy Blunt and Richard Burr were first elected. And I don’t think the party is coming back. It’s hard on China, protect the border, fight for the Second Amendment, fight for life. It has been an extremely popular program with the grassroots. “
McConnell has previously indicated his willingness to intervene in GOP primary battles – even against candidates backed by Trump – if he sees any eligibility issues that could endanger the party’s chances of winning the seat. It’s a recognition of a Senate landscape where Republicans have little room for error in their attempt to win back a majority in the equally divided chamber.
Already, this dynamic is causing tensions in Missouri, where GOP officials fear the candidacy of former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens – who stepped down amid a sex scandal in 2018 – could jeopardize the odds. of the party to occupy the seat of Blunt.
Greitens, the top Republican frontrunner, made it clear in a radio interview in March that he had no intention of following in Blunt’s footsteps, a negotiator and a close ally of McConnell.
“Unfortunately Roy Blunt sided with Mitch McConnell,” said the former governor. “He criticized the President of the United States for what happened on January 6. He criticized the President of the United States for not coming to the nomination of Joe Biden, where obviously everything the world in Missouri saw Roy Blunt there. “
All Republicans running for the Missouri Senate seat have a different style and tone than Blunt, former Republican Senator John Lamping said.
“Roy is a super super insider and that’s not what the base wants,” Lamping said. “No one is running to become Senator Roy Blunt. They are running to be a Donald Trump senator. If anyone becomes a serious threat, they will be accused by their opponents of looking more like Roy Blunt.
The change in the composition of the GOP conference could be even larger than expected. Beyond the five Senators who announced their retirement, questions swirl about the plans of three more Republicans in the chamber – John Thune from South Dakota, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Chuck Grassley from Iowa – who have not officially announced their candidacies and could be replaced by more Candidates aligned with Trump. Thune and Murkowski clashed with Trump, who once backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka against Murkowski.
While a Trumpier Senate could provoke McConnell crises, a prominent Republican strategist involved in Senate campaigns downplayed the risks for McConnell, but acknowledged that a change would occur if the MAGA embers replaced the five senators at retirement.
“All these [retiring senators] are good communicators, but their style is different. They like to push the legislation behind the scenes. That’s why they’re good and that’s why they’re in the Senate, ”said the strategist, who spoke freely on condition of anonymity. “Politics certainly on our side – and I think at all levels – is increasingly becoming a very public and very vocal fight over the issues. Sometimes that can lead to results, but it’s less about what’s going on behind the scenes and moving the football a yard at a time on the pitch and it’s more, maybe, a Hail Marie at all times.
These stylistic distinctions are glaring in Alabama, where Trump backed Representative Mo Brooks for removing the seat from Senator Richard Shelby. Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, is best known for speaking at the January 6 rally in Washington that preceded the Capitol Riots and urging the crowd to “start jotting down names and kicking ass.”
Shelby, who has chaired both the credit and banking committees, is Alabama’s longest-serving senator. As a sign of his productive relationship with current Loans Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Leahy issued a statement on Shelby’s retirement describing him as “a true statesman and a man of his word.”
Trump has associated his endorsement of Brooks with criticism of McConnell and Shelby, who backs his former chief of staff, Katie Britt, in the race.
“I see Sen. RINO of Alabama, Old Crow’s close friend Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, is doing all he can to get his ‘assistant’ to fight the great Mo Brooks for his Senate seat,” Trump said in a recent written statement that used the acronym for “Republican in name only”.
McConnell responded by saying that being called “Old Crow” was “quite an honor” because “Old Crow is Henry Clay’s favorite bourbon.”
Trump also backed North Carolina Representative Ted Budd, another House Freedom Caucus member who voted against certification of presidential results and, along with fellow Senate candidate and former Rep. Mark Walker, joined a trial to annul the presidential election.
While Trump’s endorsement is a major boost in a GOP primary, it isn’t always the defining moment. In Alabama’s 2017 special second round for the Senate, Trump approved the nomination of Senator Luther Strange in place of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who won the race before losing to the general elections.
Brett Doster, who worked for Moore’s campaign, said candidates like Moore prevailed in some primaries over candidates endorsed by Trump when the GOP electorate believed in their conservative good faith.
“What has happened in the Republican Party so far is people are waiting to see whether Trump will be there or not, but there is still a litmus test,” Doster said.
Pennsylvania is the only one among the main GOP contests because it’s a swing state Trump lost in 2020 – and Democrats have reasonable hopes of overthrowing. A sign of the ideological variation, Toomey’s vote to condemn Trump has become a problem in the primary campaign – and not all potential Republicans in the race condemn him for it.
Trump’s allies have vowed to punish a potential candidate in the race who backed Toomey, former Rep. Ryan Costello. A former aide to former Senator Arlen Specter, who switched parties, Craig Snyder, has also joined the race as an anti-Trump Republican, although most party insiders don’t see him gaining much ground.
Some believe Trump’s relentless efforts to overturn the Pennsylvania election results could backfire in a general election because the electorate is “more anti-Biden than pro-Trump,” the former representative said. Pennsylvania Phil English, who acknowledged that Trump’s influence is still a powerful force in the party.
But former state GOP chairman Rob Gleason warns against any belief that Trump’s influence has waned in primary politics. He said the recent drop in the number of Biden polls amid the deadly withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the rise in Covid cases nationwide has led to a surge of energy among Trump supporters. .
“The primaries have low turnout but you can count on the Trump people because they always come to rallies, they always fly Trump flags, they always wave Trump signs,” Gleason said. “In all of these states we’re talking about, Trump supporters are still very active and because of all the issues with this presidency now, they don’t just feel more energetic. They feel justified.