The first big test of former President Donald Trump’s influence comes Tuesday in the Ohio Senate primary, where JD Vance took the lead after winning Trump’s endorsement.
A victory for Vance would remind his party that Trump is still king. But the acclaim will be fleeting.
The rest of May is not looking so good for the former president, who has spent his political capital on a series of races that are already exposing the limits of his post-presidential influence in the GOP.
In a four-week stretch of primaries stretching from Nebraska and West Virginia to Idaho, Pennsylvania and Georgia, Trump-backed candidates are trudging through tough races where the former president’s blessing hasn’t proved to be the rocket fuel they some waited. In a few cases, his preferred candidates are falling behind.
His record in these contests is no small feat given his own past performance. In her only two appearances on a ballot, he twice lost the popular vote. During his tenure as president, the Republican Party lost the House, the Senate, and the White House.
To continue in his role as his party’s top politician, and to press his claim to the 2024 Republican nomination, Trump cannot afford a series of reminders that his losses are beginning to pile up, or that the party’s base is, even limited. occasions, ready to challenge him.
“It will be a blow to their perceived power,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country.
“He doesn’t control the electorate on his own unless he’s on the ballot. Is he still a very, very popular figure in the Republican Party? Absolutely, undeniably. But does he have the clout and clout in the Republican primary to be the decisive kingmaker? Definitely not.”
Examining the schedule for the May primary, a Trump adviser said: “The president could have a couple of bad nights.”
Even before the polls close, the tightness of the races Trump is involved in is indicative of his limitations: His endorsements have not cleared the primary fields.
In both Ohio and Pennsylvania, opponents of Trump-endorsed candidates are so comfortable crossing Trump that they are airing television ads openly questioning Trump’s judgment on his endorsements.
“Trump made a mistake on this one,” says a character in one of the ads.
“President Trump is the most charismatic and popular figure in the Republican Party, and any association or affiliation with him can be beneficial,” said Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor and Trump adviser.
What the May primary is making clear, Scott said, is that “there’s not much he can do.”
In North Carolina, the Trump-backed Senate candidate, Rep. Ted Budd, has a comfortable lead. Also Herschel Walker, Trump’s favorite Senate candidate in Georgia. But Senate races in Ohio and Pennsylvania are not safe bets, and beyond that it will be routine for Trump.
In Nebraska, Charles Herbster, with whom Trump campaigned on Sunday, is in a brawl after being accused of sexually assaulting eight women. The Trump-backed candidate in a high-profile House race in West Virginia is reeling in a close race.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little is in the polls more than 30 percentage points ahead of his Trump-backed primary opponent, while in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp, one of Trump’s most well-worn punching bags, is not, he can only beat the Trump-backed candidate, former Sen. David Perdue, but they do so by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff.
“Georgia is the biggest,” said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. “Trump took on an incumbent Republican governor and recruited a recent incumbent Republican senator to challenge him. That is the biggest of the challenges that Trump has tried to force his will on him.”
He said: “If he is able to remove a sitting Republican governor, that is a great statement of his influence. But if you can’t take out a Republican incumbent governor with a recent incumbent senator, that’s a huge statement of his lack of influence with Republican voters.”
A mixed record in the primaries is something Trump can overcome. Despite his obsession with his primary win-loss record, he will get a second chance to endorse and campaign for the party’s nominees in November.
But because of his deeply polarizing nature, there are limits to the kinds of venues where Trump’s support would be an advantage in a general election.
Few politicians are as adept at explaining losses as Trump, whether in business or politics. And the party as a whole may benefit in November from a ticket that includes both Trumpian candidates and more traditional candidates, which will induce participation from all factions of the Republican Party.
“If you end up with a mess, there are some who believe that it is actually the best thing that can happen to the party this year, because it would force them to come together, as you would have a general election ticket made up of people from both sides of the war. ongoing civil, so to speak,” said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg.
Still, the losses Trump is about to suffer this month could still do him significant damage, providing the first proven post-presidential confirmation on the ballot that Trump, while the biggest cheerleader in the GOP, is not it is the only force that moves the primaries. voters.
“Is Trump an important figure in the party? Yes,” said Ryan Horn, a Republican media strategist. “Is he the only figure in the party? No, and I guess we’ll see.”
In West Virginia, where Trump-backed Rep. Alex Mooney is narrowly behind Rep. David McKinley in the race for a redesigned House seat, political consultant Greg Thomas said, “It’s not that Trump is the kings here.”
And in Pennsylvania, a former GOP official said, “What if your candidates don’t win? What does that say? I think it could be the beginning of the end of an era.”
The timing of the primaries is critical to the direction of the GOP, as it comes after Trump reshuffled the party, before the expected gains, and before the 2024 presidential election in which he could assert himself again.
With Republicans all but certain to retake the House in November, dozens of GOP candidates took advantage of the favorable climate and filled this year’s primaries.
Solomon Yue, a member of the Republican National Committee from Oregon, where 19 Republicans are running for governor in this month’s primary, said “everyone smells blood in the water and sharks are circling for meat.”
That dynamic is giving primary voters more options than ever. Trump has already gone after four of the 10 House Republicans who voted to recall him, and two high-profile primaries against Republicans he deemed insufficiently loyal to him (Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming and Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska) will not come until august.
But what the primary in May will begin to reveal, and after that the dozens of primaries to be held in June, is what kind of Republicans will emerge.
Election fallout will not only be a factor in November, but will set a mold for the party for a generation. Vance is just 37, Budd is 50 and Walker is 60, all with decades of public office ahead of them if they win.
How significant the Trump factor will be, however, and how successful it will be in the primaries, is much less certain than it seemed at the start of the primary cycle.
By the end of the month, the picture will be clearer. But in the span of several weeks this month, Republicans in a fifth of the nation’s states will cast votes, representing red and blue states and nearly every region of the country.
The May primary, said Phillip Stephens, a member of the North Carolina GOP state executive committee, is “like a fork in the road.”
“You have a faction that wants to push the party to the right, and you have a faction that wants to moderate it, and who wins, I don’t know,” he said.
“After the primaries, we will know where we are going.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.