If a common thread runs through almost all of Trump’s recommendations, it is his habit to reward allies and punish enemies. So far, at the national level, he has supported the main challengers of four House GOP incumbents and one incumbent Senator – all of whom have voted for impeachment.
When it comes to state and local races, Trump’s stamp of approval is often linked in one way or another to his failed efforts to have the 2020 election result nullified. In the three foreign ministers’ competitions he endorsed – Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan – the common denominator is that his allegations of election fraud in those locations have been rejected by current secretaries for lack of evidence.
In Arizona, where Trump supported US Secretary of State Mark Finchem’s bid for Secretary of State this week, Finchem fits the Trump model. He’s not the only Trump supporter in the GOP space, but he’s arguably the most dedicated. He claims the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, participated in the “Stop the Steal” movement, attended the January 6 rally at the US Capitol, and promoted QAnon-sponsored conspiracy theories.
Trump has been particularly active in Georgia, where three of the state’s top Republicans have drawn the wrath of Trump for defying his efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
He supports MP Jody Hice in a key challenge against GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – who defied Trump’s requests to “find” more votes for him than were counted in Georgia – and against Burt Jones in the open GOP area code for Lieutenant Governor. Jones is part of a group of state senators who have called on Governor Brian Kemp to convene an emergency meeting to overturn the Georgia presidential election results after Biden’s victory.
Trump has not yet supported himself in the governor race. But after months of publicly denouncing Kemp, there is little doubt where the former president stands.
For some Republicans, Trump’s efforts to overthrow GOP incumbents in federal and state elections run counter to the party’s interests in a mid-term election where Republicans are in close proximity to regain control of Congress. While the party is focused on the parliamentary elections in November 2022, Trump’s eyes are on the pre-election season starting next spring.
“Donald Trump continues to add to the chaos in the Republican Party. It confuses the average Republican voter, “said Georgia GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Trump critic who is not running for re-election. “The only question that seems to matter when Trump gives his approval is, ‘Are you with us in the electoral conspiracy?’ Not: “Do you believe in a smaller government? Do you support law enforcement? Do you believe in lower regulations? ‘ Instead it says: ‘Are you with me?’ “
In Michigan, where Trump recently endorsed a key challenger for veteran GOP rep Fred Upton and voted favorites in two other state races, the influence of the former president is already being felt.
“His early advocates made an immediate impact in Michigan’s political circles, turning some of wholly unknown status into candidates to be reckoned with,” noted John Sellek, a senior Republican adviser in Michigan.
“[Trump’s] early picks clearly come with a touch of vengeance, ”he said. “How the primaries will end is still up in the air due to the redistribution and how the races will develop. But its impact on the nominations made at the state’s GOP convention is likely complete and complete. We should expect more confirmations to come. “
With dozens of endorsements in the House of Representatives, Senate, Board of Governors, Attorney General, and state legislature competitions – not to mention his longstanding involvement in cherry-picking GOP presidencies in the state – Trump will continue to reshape the party according to his image. Those efforts would prove helpful to him if he ran for president again in 2024.
Many Republicans see this as a welcome prospect as the party base has moved in a direction more aligned with Trump’s policies.
“Before 2015, there are good arguments that the Beltway version of the Republican Party has moved away from the grassroots,” said Drew McKissick, the Trump-backed chairman of the GOP in South Carolina.
“What you saw in 2016 – when Trump defeated 16 other qualified Republican candidates – was the snap back of the elastic. The base hadn’t moved. The Beltway had, ”he said. “So there is a continuous reset; The people have to reorient themselves to where the base of the party actually is. “
According to McKissick’s point, half of primary voters identify themselves as “Trump First voters,” and only 43 percent identified themselves as primary loyalty to the GOP, according to a recent survey by Echelon Insights.
“It’s what the grassroots want,” said Joe Kent, a Trump-backed Army veteran who ran against Washington State MP Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for Trump’s impeachment. “The only good thing that came out of the 2020 election and impeachment votes is that we were able to truly identify and make vulnerable incumbent Republicans, country club Republicans and Republicans by name only.”
Trump’s practical approach to voting sides in party primaries contrasts with the style of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who usually refused to wade into contested primaries.
Tim Murtaugh, former communications director for Trump’s campaign, said Trump’s support was a manifestation of what the party’s voters want.
“President Trump’s America First philosophy has become one of the party’s core tenets,” said Murtaugh, who serves as spokesman for Kelly Tshibaka, a Trump-backed key challenger to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. “He supports candidates who believe in the same thing. There the party is now and that because of Trump. “
Murtaugh also works for Harriet Hageman’s main campaign in Wyoming, approved by Trump last week, to oppose his number one Republican target, Representative Liz Cheney, the best-known Republican to vote for his second impeachment.
“President Trump retains unprecedented influence in the Republican Party. As we see in elections across the country, there is only one track for candidates to be successful: the Trump track, “said a Trump spokesman. “Not surprisingly, President Trump is already 10-0 in the Republican elections. He will continue to compete in the races to highlight the best candidates while continuing to sort out RINOs and sell-outs. “
To varying degrees, Trump’s involvement in both Senate and House primaries against incumbents brings him into conflict with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who have a mandate to protect their members.
Trump’s aggressive role in open Senate primaries is already exacerbating tensions with McConnell, who has made it clear that eligibility – not allegiance to Trump – should be the highest standard of support for a candidate.
In swing state Pennsylvania, where support for Trump has become a litmus test in the crowded GOP primary to succeed Republican Senator Pat Toomey, the former president recently endorsed military veteran and author Sean Parnell.
So far, Trump has done little besides making statements of support. He’s given some candidates a boost in the form of mentions at rallies or an appearance at a fundraiser, but strategists say he needs to invest a lot more time and money in sponsored candidates to make a significant impact.
One Trump endorsement is “table inserts,” said Matt Gorman, a GOP strategist and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The real key is what else he’s willing to do for you. A race? To collect money? Ads on your behalf? The breakthrough usually actually happens there. “
Former MP Ryan Costello, who is considering running for the Pennsylvania Senate seat and who has been critical of Trump since leaving the House of Representatives, said Trump had made so many advocates in so many races that it was impossible to see the net effect of it all to tickle out.
“Trump is obviously an accountant,” he said. “Is Trump a kingmaker in a Republican primary? In many cases, yes. On a safe Republican seat, you have a certain type of candidate he supports who will win. But on swing seats, a Trump candidate could win the primary and lose the general because Trump is so toxic. That doesn’t bother Trump. But it’s a problem if we want to win more seats in the medium term. “