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The two women who could 'cancel' Trump

It’s been relatively quiet in Trump world since his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) confab. Just threats to unseat disloyal Republicans, demands that Republican committees cease using his name for fundraising, several no-brainer endorsements, and a jab at Meghan MarkleMeghan MarkleMeghan wins last copyright claim over letter to father Meghan announces children's book inspired by Prince Harry and Archie The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to take stock, revive push for big government MORE (“I know the Queen!”).

Well, quiet for Trump.

But two women bode trouble for Trump in 2022 and could sink his comeback aspirations: Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care: Supreme Court takes case that could diminish Roe v. Wade | White House to send US-authorized vaccines overseas for first time Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization White House: Biden committed to codifying Roe v. Wade regardless of Miss. case MORE (R-Alaska) and Lara TrumpLara TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' Budd to run for Senate in NC Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE.

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Murkowski is the only Senator facing reelection (and not definitively retiring) who voted to convict Trump. For that Trump has sworn revenge. Already, the Alaskan Republican Party has censured Murkowski, and she is sure to face a primary challenge.

Or is she?

Murkowski has not had the best relations with the Alaska GOP. The only race she has ever lost was the 2010 Republican Senate primary. But Murkowski followed that loss with a victory in the general — as a write-in! To put that in perspective, it was only the second time in U.S. history a write-in won for US Senate.

Murkowski likely won’t have a primary challenge since she likely won’t run as a Republican. She likely will switch to independent and run as a voice for Alaska — a quirky state that elects iconoclasts and the occasional independent. Murkowski is a survivor and has done so by meticulously serving Alaska’s unique federal needs. Her recent vote (over conservative objections) to confirm Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandHaaland makes endorsement in race for her old House seat Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Interior secretary approves new Cherokee constitution providing citizenship rights for freedmen MORE (D-N.M.) as the first Native American Interior secretary was a clear nod to the large Inuit population in Alaska, for example.

After all his rhetoric, Trump has to go after Murkowski. To not do so is an admission of weakness and defeat. But Trump is an outsider to an insular state. And a rally in Ketchikan where he talks mostly about himself won’t beat Murkowski. Her likely win will be a rebuke to Trump and his power over the GOP.

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As difficult as the Murkowski election is, Lara Trump’s potential candidacy for U.S. Senate in North Carolina is worse. A Lara Trump loss would be an abject humiliation. Lara Trump, wife of second son Eric TrumpEric TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden convenes world leaders for Earth Day The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Chauvin conviction puts renewed focus on police reform Lara Trump is wild card in North Carolina Senate race MORE, is originally from the Tarheel State and has some decent media experience, giving her more than a little polish.

Her candidacy would be the first test for the Trump name, and it is far from certain it will go well. And if it doesn’t, Donald Trump might not recover.

There is not much decent polling on a Lara Trump candidacy, but what exists is not that great. In a December poll, Lara Trump held a 24 percent to 23 percent lead over possible rival former Gov. Pat McCrory. Announced candidate (and Trump fan) former Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' Budd to run for Senate in NC Former North Carolina chief justice launches Senate campaign MORE trailed both at 7 percent. Meanwhile, the GOP preference for president had Donald Trump at 76 percent.

Now, Lara Trump cannot be expected to equal the former president, but those polling numbers show that over two-thirds of Donald Trump supporters either want to wait and see on Lara Trump or don’t want another Trump. (Statistically speaking we cannot be certain there is 100 percent overlap between Lara Trump and Donald Trump supporters, but it seems a safe bet that the overlap is high.)

It’s hard to see a Trump losing a GOP primary, particularly when that Trump has legitimate local ties. Team Trump may even be able to clear the field of any credible candidates. But, if Lara Trump has a close call, that would be a serious problem. 

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So, how would Lara Trump do in the general election? North Carolina has been fairly reliable Republican territory, but the trend has been bad for the GOP. Since former President Carter in 1976, North Carolina has voted Democratic only once. The state has elected Republican senators fairly consistently, with only two Democratic one-termers — Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganBiden's gun control push poses danger for midterms The two women who could 'cancel' Trump 10 under-the-radar races to watch in November MORE (2009 to 2015) and John Edwards (1999 to 2005) — representing the state since 1992.

But Republican margins have narrowed precipitously. Former President George W. Bush won the state twice with more than 56 percent of the vote. Former President Obama won in 2008, with Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Top border officials defend Biden policies MORE (R-Utah) recovering the state in 2012 by just 2 percentage points. Former President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE did not crack 50 percent in either of his tight victories there.

In the Senate races, retiring Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump to speak at North Carolina GOP convention Romney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' GOP senator urges Biden to withdraw support for COVID vaccine patent waiver MORE’s margin dropped from over 10 points in 2010 to less than 6 points in 2016. Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump to speak at North Carolina GOP convention Senate hears from Biden's high-profile judicial nominees for first time Senate Democrats take aim at 'true lender' interest rate rule MORE has two razor-thin wins under his belt — less than 2 points in both 2014 and 2020. Tillis has yet to exceed 50 percent.

In politics, a win is a win — but the trend shows that winning elections for Republicans is now a tough battle.

If Lara Trump is viewed as just a proxy for outsiders rather than a real representative for North Carolina, then she simply cannot win. Her candidacy will not only necessarily be closely associated with Donald Trump, but the former president simply will not be able to control his need to be at the center of things and in control. Lara Trump is going to be running against the Democrats and trying to keep her father-in-law operating within some set of boundaries. Good luck with that.

Donald Trump is all about winning. A winning, infallible mystique is the foundation of his power and grip on the Republican Party. Anything that chips away at that foundation is potentially fatal. Former President Trump’s ability to convince enough Republicans (and himself) that he was the victim of cheating in the 2020 election has saved that mystique for now. But entangling himself with two losing causes poses the greatest current threat to his political power.

Per his usual strategy, Donald Trump just hinted at Lara Trump’s run (“I hear she’s going to run …”), leaving an out if her prospects dim. Faced with a losing campaign, the onus will be on Lara Trump to demur, and Donald Trump can just claim she could have won. As such, a Lara Trump candidacy is no certainty. But for the former president, the cat is out of the bag. Lara Trump not running is still a sign of weakness.

Much has been made of former President Trump’s problem appealing to women. Failing to attract the female vote cost Trump reelection. Two female candidates may well end his political career permanently.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.