Analysis

The pros and cons of a Trump endorsement

Why the former president's imprimatur can be a mixed blessing

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed several candidates on the ballot in Tuesday primary states Ohio and Indiana. On its face a coveted show of support, backing from Trump is — perhaps surprisingly — not without its drawbacks. Here are some of the upsides and downsides of being on the receiving end of a Trump endorsement.

PRO: It's a seal of approval for Republican candidates

Trump's kingmaker status may face its ultimate test this primary season, but there's no denying an endorsement from the former president usually bolsters the recipient's poll numbers.

"Every candidate should be out there seeking a Trump endorsement, because more often than not, it helps candidates substantially," Republican strategist Gregg Keller recently told Morning Consult. But, he conceded, it's unlikely to be "a silver bullet in all races at all times."

CON: It might end up helping their opponents

Sometimes, a Trump endorsement actually ends up helping the endorsee's opponent, The Conversation previously reported.

During the 2018 midterms, for example, The Conversation found that while a Trump nod helped raise money, it also helped Democratic counterparts fundraise. Research from other political scientists supports this phenomenon — dubbed the "backlash effect" — in which an endorsement on one side of a race fuels the base on the other, The Conversation writes. In 2018, a Trump endorsement appeared to do exactly that, galvanizing the liberal voter base and increasing their monetary donations and mobilization at the polls. 

PRO: It helps differentiate otherwise similar candidates

Take, for example, Ohio's GOP Senate primary race, in which Trump recently announced his support of Hillbilly Elegy author and Twitter provocateur J.D. Vance, writes The New Statesman. Some of the race's other Republican candidates have received high-profile backing of their own (GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas endorsed Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel, respectively), and voters might use the varying seals of approval — including Trump's — to differentiate on Election Day.

"In Ohio, the big endorsements are off the board," political science professor Thomas Wood told The New Statesman in April. "It's interesting because there's basically no policy disagreements between the field of candidates, so these endorsements will likely loom in voters' minds."

CON: Trump's strategy could backfire on the whole party

The former president's messy endorsements could end up being the "GOP's kryptonite," wrote Molly Jong-Fast for The Atlantic, arguing that Trump's "odd and chaotic" behavior and "terrible judgment" could ultimately "save the Senate for Democrats and perhaps even free the GOP from Trump's death grip."

The ex-president is also betting bigger this year, putting his money on several different underdogs in hopes of cementing his perceived influence over Republican politicians and voters. But what happens if he's wrong?

"Donald Trump is like a reckless gambler that's gone into a casino and put his stack of money on one number," Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, told The Guardian. "Right now the roulette wheel is turning and, if he's wrong on a number of these, you're going to see increasing defiance."

PRO: Trump is still very popular among GOP voters

Surely there are other GOP endorsements worth having, but voters still love #45. For example,"roughly four in five Republican voters in the early primary states of Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania hold favorable opinions about the former president," writes Morning Consult, citing March surveys.

And across each of those four states, Trump is still viewed more favorably than other prominent GOP figures, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

CON: The endorsee might not be the best candidate for the district

In March, Trump announced he'd be supporting the 26-year-old Bo Hines in North Carolina's Republican primary. The catch? Hines doesn't currently "live anywhere near the congressional district he's running in," Politico reported in April. Many local Republicans, who believe "homegrown conservatives" are a better, more knowledgable option, are now working double-time to spread the word to voters.

"We're all America First people, but we don't need Mr. Trump or anybody else bringing candidates in who don't know nothing about farming, don't know anything about agriculture and the roads here and the needs we have," one local activist, Dale Lands, told Politico.

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