The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

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

Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images
GREENVILLE, NC – JUNE 05: Laura Trump speaks at the NCGOP state convention as former U.S. President Donald Trump on June 5, 2021 in Greenville, North Carolina. Laura Trump put rumors to bed by announcing she would not be running for the N.C. Senate. The event is one of former U.S. President Donald Trumps first…

Lara Trump’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 Budd (R-N.C.) was polling in low single digits and was not even sure he would run.

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 Graham (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 Trump’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 Tillis (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 Burr’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.

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.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Lara Trump Lindsey Graham North Carolina North Carolina Senate seat Richard Burr Ted Budd Thom Tillis Trump endorsement trumpism

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video