Trump faces test of power with early endorsements

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response 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 BrooksWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report MORE (R), who is running for Senate in Alabama, and former White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersTrump expected to resume rallies in June Andrew Giuliani planning run for New York governor Trump appears at Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign event 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 JohnsonBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda MORE (R-Wis.) — who has yet to formally announce whether he is running for reelection — as well as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken 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 CrapoBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' 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 StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE in the Alabama GOP Senate primary runoff in 2017, only to see Strange lose to the controversial former Judge Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint 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 BoehnerCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Lobbying world 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 GonzalezJuan Williams: GOP's assault on voting rights is the real fraud The Memo: Trump's Arizona embarrassment sharpens questions for GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration 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 RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE (R-Wis.), reportedly held a virtual fundraiser for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats stare down 'hell' week 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 HiceTrump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Trump stokes GOP tensions in Georgia Herschel Walker will speak at Trump rally in Georgia 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) Ryan Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case Ohio Republican tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in 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 GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines MORE (S.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstHillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Instagram 'pausing' kid-targeted plan Senators aim to increase oversight of cryptocurrency mining with new bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (Iowa) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Daines to introduce bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to troops killed in Afghanistan Powell reappointment to Fed chair backed by Yellen: report 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.”