Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it

Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it
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Lara TrumpLara TrumpPast criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Trump endorsement shakes up GOP Senate primary in NC Lara Trump calls on Americans at border to 'arm up and get guns and be ready' MORE’s decision Saturday not to run for the U.S. Senate in 2022 is a big deal on several levels. Her campaign would have been the first post-Trump-presidency test not only of whether a Trump scion could be electable, but also whether the family’s political dynasty could be expanded beyond the highly polarizing patriarch.

Had she run and won, Mrs. Trump immediately would have entered GOP discussions for higher office as soon as 2028 or 2032. Her father-in-law remains the 800-pound Gorilla Glue in the room, paradoxically exacerbating his party’s fissure while tenuously holding it together. Simultaneously harmful, invaluable, and immovable, the elder Trump remains the party’s core identity. His children and children-in-law are GOP royalty — whether Republicans like it or not.

A native North Carolinian, Mrs. Trump might have been a near shoo-in for her party’s nomination thanks to statewide name recognition, co-ownership of the Trump brand, and access to a fundraising machine like no other. In a poll less than two months ago, she garnered 32 percent Republican support in a hypothetical Senate primary against Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (20 percent) and former Gov. Pat McCrory (14 percent). U.S. Congressman Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddSchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Pro-impeachment Republicans outpace GOP rivals in second-quarter fundraising Trump, GOP return to border to rev up base MORE (R-N.C.) was polling in low single digits and was not even sure he would run.

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Yet for some reason, on Saturday, Mrs. Trump declined to throw her hat in the ring, spurring her father-in-law to make the seemingly hasty decision to endorse Budd. Mrs. Trump said she is not running “because of [her] two kids,” who are one and three years old. This is a well-reasoned explanation under normal circumstances, and it’s hard not to take her at her word. But of course, these are not normal circumstances, and the Trumps are not a normal political family.

She traveled to North Carolina extensively during the elder Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. She and her husband named their second child Carolina. U.S. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform MORE (R-S.C.) recently labeled her “the future of the Republican Party.” She has been groomed to become a leader in her birth state.

But she cannot afford to wait. As his presidency demonstrated, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE’s stock has a brutally low ceiling. A majority of Americans decided in 2016 that they could not vote for him, and this opposition grew in 2020. In April, for the first time in nearly two years, a majority of Republicans favored their party over him. His 43 percent favorability seven months ago has dwindled to 32 percent.

Additionally, by most accounts, North Carolina is not getting any redder, and Trump performed worse in 2020 (1.3-point victory) than he did in 2016 (3.6-point victory). Additionally, his 2020 victory margin was half a percentage point less than that of Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (R-N.C.). There is no burgeoning support here, and changing demographics suggest time is on Democrats’ side.

If the GOP retains outgoing U.S. Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Bipartisan group to issue 'promising' statement on infrastructure path forward First responders shouldn't have to tackle tigers MORE’s (R-N.C.) seat next year, and assuming the still relatively youthful (60-year-old) Tillis runs again in 2024, Mrs. Trump would not get another chance at the U.S. Senate until 2030 at the earliest.

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Sure, she could run for governor, but that would require her to live in the state for at least two years before the election. It’s one thing for Mrs. Trump to claim North Carolina as her ancestral home. It’s another thing to uproot her family — and leave their recently purchased 7,715-square-foot home in South Florida — to reside in a state for the sole purpose of running to lead it.

If Mrs. Trump never planned to run — if this was all a ploy to elevate her own name recognition to advance business interests or other endeavors — then it worked.

But if she really did want to become a U.S. senator, perhaps she’ll soon realize her best shot was the one she didn’t take.

B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.