GOP lawmakers say primaries show Trump’s firm grip on party
Senate Republicans say the strong performances by Trump-backed candidates in the Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio GOP primaries show former President Trump maintains a vice-like grip on their party and will be the heavy favorite heading into the 2024 presidential election.
Trump has not only picked winners in various key gubernatorial, Senate and House primaries, but his endorsements in several high-profile instances appear to have propelled lagging candidates to victory.
Lawmakers say this is most apparent in the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries, where Trump’s involvement appears to have altered the outcome of the election.
Even if Trump can’t take all of the credit for producing winners, there’s no question his endorsement moves poll numbers, GOP senators say.
“There’s no question in my mind that he would become the nominee in 2024 if he decides to run for the Republican nomination,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was the GOP presidential nominee in 2012.
In terms of Trump’s affect on down-ballot races, Romney added: “He has a significant impact on state races, and he’ll win some and lose some but surely people will want his endorsement if they can get it.”
When Trump endorsed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary on April 9, the move surprised some of his advisers as Oz was trailing his rival, former Bridgewater CEO David McCormick, by an average of 6 points in the polls.
A day after Election Day, Mehmet held a slim lead of less than 2,000 votes over McCormick with 95 percent of the vote counted.
Trump’s backing appeared to turbocharge the campaign of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Douglas Mastriano, who spread discredited claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 election and attended the Jan. 6, 2021, protests outside the Capitol.
Mastriano, who was already in first place, surged even higher in the polls after Trump’s endorsement and wound up winning with 44 percent of the vote.
Some Republicans aren’t thrilled with the idea of GOP candidates rehashing debunked theories about the 2020 election having been stolen.
“Most voters are concerned about what’s going to happen in the future, not what happened in the past,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on Wednesday.
But as Trump consolidates his hold over the GOP, claims of widespread fraud in the last election are likely to stick around for a while.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he agrees with Romney that Trump will be heading into the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election as the clear leader of the Republican Party.
“He’s clearly still the most significant person of influence in the party,” he said. “What he did in Pennsylvania is not insignificant if Dr. Oz pulls it out.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Donald Trump. There’s just no question he’s still got a broad influence over a broad swath of Republican primary voters and activists,” he added.
Cramer predicted that Trump will be able to roll victories in 2022 into his 2024 presidential campaign, if he decides to run.
“Donald Trump, he’s good with capital. He’s good at maximizing capital. Chits get called in at some point and politics is a business of capital. Usually all you have is your political capital. He’s gathering a lot of it right now,” he added. “It gives him a lot to spend if he needs to.
“I think he’s the clear front-runner for the nomination,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is eyeing a potential White House run himself in 2024, acknowledged that Trump retains massive influence over GOP voters.
“In Ohio, there’s no question that Trump’s endorsement won that race. It had a dramatic impact. In Pennsylvania, there’s no question that Trump’s endorsement moved Dr. Oz’s numbers significantly, and President Trump continues to have the deep respect and admiration of a great many Americans and when he makes that endorsement, it carries weight,” he said.
“There’s no doubt he has strong support among Republican primary voters,” he added.
When Trump endorsed J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate Republican primary on April 15, he was in third place, well behind former state treasurer Josh Mandel and businessman Mike Gibbons, though he was ticking up in the polls.
Buoyed by Trump’s backing, Vance wound up easily winning the May 3 primary with 32 percent of the vote.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who has been critical of Trump from time to time and who became the target of his wrath after urging colleagues not to attempt to block the certification of President Biden’s 2020 victory, said pundits will doubtless see the primary results as a sign of Trump’s strength within the GOP.
“The pundits will be interpreting these results. If you want to draw that conclusion, you certainly can,” he said of colleagues and members of the media who see wins by Trump-backed candidates as evidence of the former president’s political dominance in the GOP. “In many of these cases, the people he endorsed performed well.”
But Thune said he’s not yet entirely convinced because elections are complicated and driven by various factors.
“It’s not real clear-cut in the sense that you have in most of these races multiple candidates who are taking votes away from each other so … you can make some generalized assessments, but I don’t think you can make very specific ones,” he said.
Trump skeptics point out that he hasn’t been successful across the board.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), whom Trump asked voters to give a second chance after a series of scandals, lost his bid to serve a second term.
And in Nebraska, Charles Herbster, an businessman who had Trump’s support but also faced allegations he had inappropriately touched several women, lost his race against Jim Pillen for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Herbster has denied the allegations.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted to impeach Trump in February of last year, said Oz did well in Pennsylvania because he was a strong candidate, downplaying the impact of Trump’s endorsement.
He said Oz’s performance doesn’t say much about Trump’s strength because “Oz started off with almost universal name ID, very high favorable ratings.”
“Frankly, he’s a good candidate, spent a lot of money. He did well,” he said, predicting either Oz or McCormick will beat Democratic nominee John Fetterman in November.
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