Former President Donald Trump's expected endorsement of Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance could be a game-changer in the Ohio Republican Senate primary.
Vance is polling well enough to potentially emerge from the crowded field with the nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R), but he's no sure bet and has generally underperformed. That makes this a departure from the frequent Trump strategy of endorsing the frontrunner, then taking credit when they win.
It would also be Trump's first major endorsement of a Republican committed to the policy-focused Trumpism of the MAGA smart set. Trump endorsed against his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Alabama Senate race though Sessions was a Trumpist — on immigration, trade, foreign policy, Stephen Miller — before the 45th president himself.
The endorsement could also be a vindication of Vance's strategy of competing with former state Treasurer Josh Mandel's lower-brow appeal to the GOP base, picking up Trump's blessing — and maybe some Republican votes — at the expense of erstwhile admirers. This includes Vance's reappraisal of Trump himself.
Coming on the heels of Trump's endorsement of Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Republican senate primary, it could also suggest a broader strategic shift by the former president, even if the the MAGA right is less enamored of Oz. Trump may be gambling that if these endorsements of candidates who aren't guaranteed victory actually pulls them across the finish line, it will increase the number of Republican senators genuinely beholden to him. If Trump intends to return to the White House, that could come in handy when it comes to passing legislation, beating back impeachments, maybe even ousting Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
But the opposite is also true: These endorsements risk devaluing the power of Trump's blessing ahead of the next election cycle, when his hold on the Republican Party may be tested as never before.