Trump faces test of power with early endorsements

Former President Trump’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 Brooks (R), who is running for Senate in Alabama, and former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee 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 Johnson (R-Wis.) — who has yet to formally announce whether he is running for reelection — as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). 

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.

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 Crapo (R) and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin (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 Strange in the Alabama GOP Senate primary runoff in 2017, only to see Strange lose to the controversial former Judge Roy Moore. 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.”

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 Boehner (R-Ohio), who has been especially vocal with his criticism of the Trump wing of the party, threw his support behind incumbent Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (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 Ryan (R-Wis.), reportedly held a virtual fundraiser for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (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 Hice (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 Ryan (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 Graham (S.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Steve Daines (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.” 

Tags 2022 Anthony Gonzalez Boehner Donald Trump endorsements Jody Hice John Boehner Joni Ernst Lindsey Graham Liz Cheney Luther Strange midterms Mike Crapo Mo Brooks Paul Ryan Rand Paul Ron Johnson Roy Moore Sarah Huckabee sarah huckabee sanders Steve Daines Tim Griffin Tim Ryan Trump endorsement
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