President Trump faces hurdles and opportunities after primary results

President Trump faces hurdles and opportunities after primary results
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The results of the primary elections last week reveal both challenges and opportunities to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE and Republicans. It was evident that his endorsements down the ballot did not carry the same weight as they had in previous races. Trump, who has frequently touted his strong record of endorsements in primary elections for Congress, had numerous political setbacks as Republicans snubbed his choices at the ballot box.

This presents a challenge for Trump and the party moving forward as his influence among Republicans wanes. This is a problem for Trump in light of the fact that moderate Republicans have defected from him lately, and a number of prominent party leaders have publicly rebuked him for being divisive and reckless. One of the most remarkable upsets for Republicans was in the 11th district of North Carolina in the party contest for the seat formerly held by the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Political newcomer Madison Cawthorn defeated Lynda Bennett, who had been chosen by Meadows and endorsed by Trump. Cawthorn positioned himself as the leader of a generation of conservative politicians who can take on the young members of Congress on the progressive left, such as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. While Cawthorn said in his acceptance speech he did not “believe this election has been a referendum” on the influence of the president, but it has become clear that the endorsement by Trump in these critical down ballot races do not have the same sway.


In the 4th district of Kentucky, incumbent Thomas Massie won with almost 90 percent of the vote in the face of opposition from the president. Trump called Massie a “disaster for America” and a “third rate grandstander” after he opposed the first coronavirus relief bill. Trump went so far as to call for Massie to be ousted by Republicans. The defeat of Bennett and the victory of Massie are clear rebukes of the president in his own party.

This is a challenge for Trump, as nearly 60 percent of voters disapprove of the job he is doing as president, according to a Marist Poll. Further, Trump trails Joe Biden in the general election by 8 points. While there are several undeniable hurdles for Trump and Republicans, the primary elections for Democrats indicate there are also opportunities. Some liberal Democrats performed better than expected against their strongly backed moderate opponents, a sign of the progressive insurgence in the party.

Positively for Republicans, the leftward movement of Democrats may lead to greater pressure on party leaders to embrace more liberal policies that are unpopular in a general election, including defunding the police, more unfettered immigration advocacy, and a possible wealth tax. This leftward movement was evident up in the 16th district of New York, where political newcomer Jamaal Bowman campaigned on a social justice platform and beat House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel.

This was also the case in the race in Kentucky to nominate the Democrat that will challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Progressive candidate Charles Booker is close to defeating establishment candidate Amy McGrath, who has been endorsed by prominent Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. If the party will embrace radical policies in response to these primary results, it will create an opening for Trump to gain ground with moderate voters and for Republicans to take back vulnerable seats across swing districts they lost in 2018.

Some Republicans who lost in swing districts in the midterm elections two years ago won their party nominations last week and are set for rematches against incumbent Democrats. Indeed, Democrats must defend a number of swing districts which they won in 2018, such as the 11th district of New York, where Republican Nicole Malliotakis won her primary race last week and will challenge Democratic incumbent Max Rose in the fall.

There is a clear opportunity for Trump and Republicans to succeed in the general election this fall if Democrats continue the leftward movement in response to the progressive surge in the party. But Republicans also face the clear challenge of uniting their party around an unpopular president, especially as his approval ratings slip and his influence wanes.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book is “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”