Does Trump’s endorsement make a difference?

After last week’s win in Ohio for JD Vance in the GOP Senate primary, there has been the usual pundit hot takery that is little more than a public therapy session meant to confirm one’s priors. Anti-Trump and/or anti-populists downplayed the importance of Trump’s endorsement, while those more friendly to Trump or at least the new right, populist brand hyped it up. Personally, I do think Trump’s endorsement likely put Vance over the top, but that is not necessarily a portent of things to come. The Ohio Senate GOP primary was, for all intents and purposes, a MAGA-off. Every candidate was attempting to out-Trump the other. The only viable, non-Trumpy candidate was a mediocre candidate who barely stood out from the pack. In that environment it makes sense that Trump’s endorsement would carry more weight.

Yesterday Trump went one for two in his endorsements, with a Trump-backed candidate winning a West Virginia House primary but another losing a Nebraska gubernatorial primary. Again, though, how much is either a reflection (good or bad) on Trump and not just a reflection on local and unique situations? In West Virginia, two incumbent House Republicans were squaring off because the state is losing a Congressional seat due to reapportionment. Alex Mooney defeated David McKinley, the latter of whom voted for the bipartisan infrastructure act. West Virginia is now one of the most solidly red states in the country. (Side note: who could have predicted that 20 years ago? For all the people who think states’ political dispositions are forever fixed, here is exhibit A on why that is a flawed assumption). McKinley voting for the IJA probably had more to do with him losing than Trump endorsing his opponent, though in a state like West Virginia it assuredly had some impact. Nebraska is a different kind of political animal with its own unique set of issues, so again, I am not sure how telling the outcome there is for Trump’s influence in the party.

Primaries in Pennsylvania and Georgia will be more telling. Trump’s endorsement of Doctor Oz is not even popular among his own supporters. Oz may win, but it will be because the non-Oz vote will be split, and there are no runoffs. (Another side note: even if it shouldn’t be necessary to get an absolute majority, why not set at least a minimum threshold of, say, 40% to win a primary?) In Georgia, it looks like Governor Kemp is set to whomp David Perdue. Considering that Kemp is Trump enemy number 1 as far as Republicans go, this would be a major rebuke. Some of that will no doubt be on Perdue, who has essentially decided to take his Trump levels to 11. But Perdue is also someone who has won statewide elections in Georgia. Unlike Doc Oz, he has actual political experience, so his defeat would be a bit more meaningful.

In the end, I am not sure how much Trump’s endorsement really matters. It probably can decide close elections in certain states, but is probably otherwise no crucial. If anything, a Trump endorsement may be a lagging indicator than the deciding factor.


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