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In GOP primaries, Trump can hurt someone, but can he help?

In GOP primaries, Trump can hurt someone, but can he help?
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Just three years after reinventing himself as a pugilistic populist, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate GOP warns economy will tank if Dems win Gorbachev calls Trump's withdrawal from arms treaty 'a mistake' MORE has proven remarkably adept at ridding the Republican Party of far more experienced politicians who offer anything short of complete fealty.

But Trump has proven less effective at refashioning the GOP by electing like-minded candidates. He has struggled, at times, to transfer the fervor of his most ardent supporters to those candidates he publicly endorses.

In the words of one GOP strategist, who asked for anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, Trump is good at breaking things. He's not as good at building them back up.

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"Voters on our side have hired him to be a mercenary to battle their enemies. Therefore, he is most effective when he identifies opponents of the cause. That's his skill set," said Brad Todd, a GOP strategist and co-author of "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics."

Rep. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordOvernight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Haley shocks Washington with resignation | Turkish officials reportedly conclude Saudis killed journalist | Trump eyes second Kim summit after midterms GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' On The Money: House passes 4B spending bill to avert shutdown | Trump 'not happy' after Fed's latest rate hike | Trump says he refused meeting with Trudeau MORE (R-S.C.), who lost his bid for another term on Tuesday, is the latest in a growing list of victims of Trump's political wrath.

Sanford has been critical of Trump's coarse language and his decision not to release his tax returns. As voters headed to the polls Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Sanford was "very unhelpful" and "nothing but trouble."

State Rep. Katie Arrington (R), who cast herself as a Trump loyalist, took almost 51 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Sanford took just 46 percent.

"We are the party of Donald J. Trump," Arrington said in her victory speech Tuesday.

Before his run-in with Trump, Sanford built one of the most conservative records in public life, both in Congress and as governor. He had been planning a run for the White House, before a very public scandal involving an Argentinian paramour — a scandal to which Trump referred in his tweet — ended his marriage and his national hopes.

Yet the scandal could not fell Mark Sanford. Instead, Trump’s tweet did.

Sanford joins other unquestionably ideological conservatives, such as Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerLawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi's death Corker calls for 'collective' response from Western countries if Saudi crown prince found responsible in Khashoggi's death The Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Tenn.), who have been forced out over disagreements with Trump.

Last week, Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyInsurgency shakes up Democratic establishment Dem House candidate claims Russians tried to hack campaign website Tag Obama for the rise of Trump, and now, socialism MORE (R-Ala.), who also expressed disgust with Trump's comments on an Access Hollywood video, was forced into a runoff election. In that race, Roby will face former Rep. Bobby Bright (R), the man she beat in 2010. When Bright was in Congress, he was a Democrat. But he has attacked Roby for insufficiently supporting Trump.

So Trump can hound someone out of the GOP. What is less obvious is whether he can convince his supporters to back the candidates he actually likes.

The same day South Carolina voters dismissed Sanford, they sent Gov. Henry McMaster (R) into a runoff with a first-time candidate, John Warren (R).

McMaster is the antithesis of Sanford. Instead of running away from Trump, McMaster was the first statewide elected official to back Trump during the Republican primaries. Trump elevated McMaster to the governorship, when he picked then-Gov. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyIn midst of political violence, America greatly needs unity Trump prefers woman for UN post, interviewing 5 candidates Mary Kissel expected to join State Department MORE (R) to serve as the administration's representative to the United Nations. And Trump endorsed McMaster early in his bid for his own full term.

But voters didn't agree, and McMaster now faces a runoff in just two weeks.

Other candidates who have received Trump's blessing have struggled to earn the loyalty of his voters, too.

Trump tweeted on behalf of Alabama Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeTrump: 'I could pick a woman,' and she could be accused of misconduct Ann Coulter believes Kushner wrote anonymous op-ed bashing Trump Mulvaney: Trump regularly asks why Roy Moore lost MORE (R), whom he dubbed "Big Luther." Strange lost a runoff to former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreFormer campaign aide to New Jersey governor says she was sexually assaulted by his ex-staffer Mellman: When questions don’t mean what they say CNN's Toobin: It's Trump's ‘nature’ to not believe accusations of sexual assault MORE — who then lost the general election, even with Trump's subsequent backing.

In Florida, Trump has backed Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFive takeaways from Gillum and DeSantis’s first debate Live coverage: Gillum clashes with DeSantis in Florida debate Miami Herald endorses Gillum for governor MORE (R) in his run for governor. A new poll released by the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows DeSantis trailing state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) by a wide margin. In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) lost a deeply conservative district in a special election even after Trump held a rally on Saccone's behalf.

Plenty of Trump-backed candidates have either won or cleared the field. On Tuesday, three Trump-backed contenders, Adam Laxalt, Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Biden: American values being 'shredded' under Trump Trump says Heller won lone Nevada Senate debate: 'He beat her very badly' MORE and Danny Tarkanian, easily advanced in their primary contests in Nevada. So did Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (R-N.D.), running against Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma —Senate debates highlight fight over pre-existing conditions | Support grows for Utah Medicaid expansion measure | Arkansas health official defends work requirements Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE (D).

Republicans involved in this year's primaries say Trump's ability to cause problems for some, and his inability to solve problems for others, is a reflection of the mission conservative voters sent him on.

Arch-conservatives have been asked for years to swallow their disappointment after losing primaries and back the winning establishment-favored contenders. Now, after their side won a primary, they expect the same of the establishment they have fought for so long.

"It was not a romance," one GOP strategist said. "It was a transaction."

Trump's inability to manipulate his core backers on behalf of another candidate means those in charge of protecting Republican majorities have less influence over their own primaries than they have in recent years.

That may be a positive for conservative voters tired of backing candidates they deem insufficiently ideological. But it may exacerbate the party's challenges in this year's midterm elections, if more moderate Republicans who abandoned Trump in key districts decide they can no longer stomach other candidates who follow in his mold.