WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s highly sought-after endorsement has not provided quite the boost some Republicans expected so far this year.
Republican candidates backed by Trump are locked in crowded primary races against undeterred opponents. Some are raising less money than their competitors. And just this week one lost an intraparty battle in Texas.
Trump has retained a firm grip on the GOP base since exiting office, and his endorsement remains extremely valuable within the party. But at the same time, he has not yet been able to fully transfer his popularity to Republican candidates running for office in the early stages of the election cycle, raising questions about the level of influence the former president will have heading into the 2022 midterms.
“At this moment in time, he still dominates the party. You can’t deny that,” said former Republican consultant Tucker Martin. “But you can see around the edges that the tide’s beginning to recede.”
Sarah Longwell, a former GOP operative who runs the anti-Trump Republican Accountability Project, said she recently concluded a series of focus groups with Trump voters from around the country. Longwell said that most wanted to see him run for president again in 2024, but when she asked about Trump’s endorsement of other Republican candidates in upcoming elections, she received a “mixed reaction.”
Longwell said that the most pro-Trump Republicans, who accounted for about half of the focus group participants, were likely to say that the former president’s endorsement would matter to them. But for the other half, identified by Longwell as more traditional Republicans who still supported Trump, his endorsement wouldn’t affect their vote as much.
“It’s some place between, Trump has the Midas touch and you automatically win and his endorsement doesn’t matter,” Longwell said. “It is not a foregone conclusion that a Trump endorsement will guarantee victory.”
The starkest example of the limits of Trump’s endorsement came this week in a special runoff election for a U.S. House seat in Texas between two Republicans. Conservative activist Susan Wright lost the race on Tuesday in the state’s 6th congressional district to GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey by nearly seven points after Trump held a tele-town hall, recorded a robocall and ran ads through his super PAC on her behalf.
Trump blamed the loss on Democrats, who were eligible to vote in the election, saying in an interview with Axios that they turned out to oppose his preferred candidate.
While the Texas special election in the summer of an off-year was unique, some political analysts on the right pointed to the race’s low voter turnout as a sign that Trump was unable to motivate his core supporters to back Wright.