Opinion

What Tuesday's primaries showed about Trump's power over the GOP

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Georgia voters decisively rejected several key candidates former President Donald Trump endorsed in the state's primaries this week. Notably, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp (R) demolished former Sen. David Perdue, the candidate Trump handpicked in a bid to unseat Kemp as punishment for his failure to fight to overturn Trump's loss in the 2020 presidential election. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who also refused to help Trump reverse his 2020 loss, beat Trump-endorsed rivals in their respective races, too. Raffensperger won by enough to avoid an expected runoff.

But Trump also backed some winners. Former football star Herschel Walker, the candidate Trump recruited to run for the Georgia GOP Senate nomination, breezed to victory and will challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November. Trump picks also had some success in Arkansas, Alabama, and Texas. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's former White House press secretary, won her primary in the race for Arkansas governor. And Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who fought to overturn the 2020 election, got a boost from Trump's endorsement and beat George P. Bush, the Bush family scion who has served two terms as state land commissioner. Trump posted on his Truth Social social network that it was a "very big and successful" primary day for candidates he endorsed.

Was he right, or did this week's primaries suggest Trump's influence over the GOP is waning?

Trump's dream of being a kingmaker is slipping

"The power of Donald Trump's endorsement took a beating" this week, say Emma Hurt and Andrew Solender at Axios. He went all out to "dislodge all of the Republican elected officials" in Georgia who refused to overturn his loss in the state in the 2020 election, and failed miserably in his bid to replace them with candidates "who loudly echo his lies about stolen elections." Some Republicans say it's "a mistake to write off Trump's kingmaker power," but the landslide win by Kemp, Trump's main target, was a stinging defeat.

Trump fared better elsewhere

"Georgia is only one state," says Susan Crabtree at RealClearPolitics. In Ohio recently, Trump "undoubtedly" lifted J.D. Vance, the Yale law school graduate and venture capitalist turned author, to victory in the state's GOP Senate primary. And his pick in Pennsylvania's GOP Senate race, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, leads hedge-fund executive David McCormick by just under 1,000 votes ahead of a recount. This week, two-term Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to overturn the 2020 election, "got a boost from a Trump endorsement" and easily beat Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, in a primary runoff. Trump had his setbacks, but that "lopsided win signaled the triumph of Trumpism over the Bush dynasty."

Other big-name Republicans aren't afraid of Trump anymore

Trump still has a grip on the MAGA base, say Adam Wren and Natalie Allison at Politico, but the rest of the party is getting sick of his "habit of rolling grenades into Republican primaries." In Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump backed Vance and Oz after other top Republicans got behind their rivals, fueling frustration with the former president, and showing "bold-face Republican names" they could cross him and survive. "Channeling growing fatigue among rank-and-file Republicans," former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were among those backing Trump's archenemy, Kemp. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) "bucked the former president by stumping" for Rep. Mo Brooks, who made it to a runoff in his bid for Alabama's GOP Senate nomination even though Trump had "unceremoniously" withdrawn his endorsement. 

Trump is undermining his own influence

It's too early to say whether "Trump's supremacy in the party" is fading, say Michael C. Bender and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. But the "signs that he has lost some political altitude have been unmistakable throughout the 2022 primary season." The former president has now missed the mark in three governor's races in three weeks. He's had success in House and Senate races, but that "dismal record" in gubernatorial primaries reveals "the shortcomings of Mr. Trump's revenge tour." And Trump has only himself to blame. He's making decisions on endorsements "based on falsehoods, vengeance, and personal pride." His failure to carefully "protect his political capital ahead of a likely 2024 presidential campaign has resulted in unforced errors" that could cost him.

Forget endorsements. The whole party is Trumpy.

It would be a mistake to interpret Trump's mixed record on endorsements "as a wholesale rejection of Mr. Trump himself," says Blake Hounshell, also in the Times. "His gravitational pull on Republican voters warped every one of Tuesday's primaries, shaping candidates' positions and priorities as they beat a path to Mar-a-Lago." Analysts have correctly noted that candidates who made Trump's stolen-election claims a centerpiece of their campaigns "fared badly" on Tuesday, but "few Republican candidates who have forthrightly denounced Mr. Trump's lies about 2020 have survived elsewhere." As Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant working against many Trump-backed candidates around the U.S., put it, when "the whole field has gone Trumpy," obsessing about any single endorsement is "silly."  

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