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Trump faces test of power with early endorsements

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE’s endorsements pose a test for him ahead of 2022 as he looks to flex his political muscle after leaving office.

The former president has thrown support behind conservative figures who have been particularly loyal to him, including Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Democrats warn Waters censure move opens floodgates Conservative House members call on Senate to oppose ATF nominee MORE (R), who is running for Senate in Alabama, and former White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersAndrew Giuliani planning run for New York governor Trump appears at Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign event Trump likely to form new super PAC MORE Sanders, who is running for governor of Arkansas.

Trump made his latest endorsements on Thursday, formally throwing his support behind one of his staunchest defenders, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill FBI was aware Giuliani was a target of a Russian influence campaign ahead of 2020 election: report MORE (R-Wis.) — who has yet to formally announce whether he is running for reelection — as well as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (R-Ky.). 

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But his endorsements could prove risky as he looks to cement his hold on a party that has splintered into competing factions ahead of the midterms.

“As they’re looking at candidates, they’re trying to reshape the Republican Party away from what a lot would call a corporatist approach and more towards this America First approach,” said former Trump administration official Alexei Woltornist.

Despite losing his reelection battle in November, Trump continues to be seen as a leading figure within the party. 

A Reuters-Ipsos survey conducted late last month showed 81 percent of Republicans expressing a favorable opinion of Trump, while 49 percent said they strongly disagreed with the view that the former president should not run for public office again.

Trump’s Save America PAC is also gaining steam ahead of the midterms, collecting a whopping $85 million in cash on hand last quarter. Trump has been a constant presence in conservative media, making a number of appearances on outlets like Fox News and Newsmax.

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Many Republican candidates have taken note of Trump’s continued influence in the party as they launch their own bids.

The former president has already rolled out a number of endorsements in races across the country this year. In March, he formally endorsed South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), Idaho Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoBottom line Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Left-leaning group: SALT cap repeal would worsen racial income disparities MORE (R) and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim GriffinJohn (Tim) Timothy GriffinTrump faces test of power with early endorsements Trump announces new tranche of endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending MORE (R), who is running to be his state’s attorney general. Trump has also endorsed in lower-level races, including backing South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick in his reelection bid.

“Every candidate that I’ve talked to, the first thing they say is, how do I get Trump to endorse me?” Woltornist said. “To them, a Trump endorsement is the golden ticket.”

Not all Republicans put as much stock into the former president’s influence. Trump notably endorsed then-Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE in the Alabama GOP Senate primary runoff in 2017, only to see Strange lose to the controversial former Judge Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE. Moore lost the general election, giving Democrats a Senate seat for two years in the deep-red state.

“Trump is the biggest endorsement any person can get, obviously, but it’s still not a golden ticket,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. “I think folks are kind of mindful of that.”

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Some Trump critics within the Republican Party have sought to boost candidates who have run afoul of the former president, reflecting the growing schism within the GOP.

Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBudowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only House Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Press: John Boehner: good author, bad leader MORE (R-Ohio), who has been especially vocal with his criticism of the Trump wing of the party, threw his support behind incumbent Rep. Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Cheney slams Trump on 'big lie' over election GOP frustration with Liz Cheney 'at a boiling point' MORE (R-Ohio), who voted to impeach Trump, according to Politico. Gonzalez is facing a primary challenge from former White House aide Max Miller, whom Trump has endorsed.

Another former Speaker, Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only Cheney at donor retreat says Trump's actions 'a line that cannot be crossed': report MORE (R-Wis.), reportedly held a virtual fundraiser for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMcConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' Loyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts MORE (R-Wyo.) in March after she drew scorn from Trump supporters in Congress for also voting to impeach the former president. Cheney is facing a primary challenge from pro-Trump state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R), though the Trump has not officially endorsed anyone in the race yet.

Other races Trump has yet to endorse in include the Republican gubernatorial convention in Virginia, where most of the candidates in the field have tied themselves closely to the former president.

Some argue that Trump is unlikely to get heavily involved in that race because the state has been increasingly seen as a Democratic stronghold. Others say it’s too early to tell who will come out on top in the race, which will be decided on May 8.

“It’s not clear at this juncture who the best candidate is,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It’s going to be a race that is won and lost on issues that are particularly specific to the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Trump’s endorsements have reflected the candidate's loyalty to him. While the president has rewarded his staunchest supporters, he has threatened to back primary challengers against sitting lawmakers and officials.

The former president notably endorsed Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceAtlanta Democrat announces bid for Georgia secretary of state Loeffler asks Georgia attorney general to investigate Raffensperger over 2020 election Heated argument erupts after Rep. Mondaire Jones calls GOP objections to DC statehood 'racist trash' MORE (R-Ga.) in his primary challenge against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) following a months-long feud with Raffensperger and other senior Georgia Republicans over election fraud claims.

“He’s making it known that it’s time to make some changes in Georgia,” O’Connell said of Trump. “I promise you, the [Republican] grassroots are going to agree with that.”

In Ohio’s 13th Congressional District, Trump’s endorsement did not appear to help Republican Christina Hagan in her race against incumbent Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Tim Ryan touts labor support in Senate bid Democratic leaders push to boost congressional staff pay MORE (D) in 2020. Hagan lost by roughly 8 points.

But Trump’s endorsement in other 2020 races helped boost Republican candidates in the House and the Senate who were considered highly vulnerable. Incumbent Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE (S.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (Iowa) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data MORE (Mont.) were at one point thought to be prime targets for Democrats, but ultimately held on to their seats. Meanwhile, in the House, Republicans managed to pick up seats, thereby shrinking the Democratic majority. 

“It’s more likely that it’s going to be a race-by-race situation,” Heye said. “Different states and different campaigns react to things differently.”