Republican primaries underscore Donald Trump's chokehold on the GOP: Senators

Republican primaries underscore Donald Trump's chokehold on the GOP: Senators

After the horrors of January 6, 2021, Donald Trump’s critics — from liberals and progressives to centrists to right-wing Never Trump conservatives — were hoping his influence on the Republican Party would end. But 16 months into Joe Biden’s presidency, countless Republican primary candidates are begging Trump for his endorsement. And some of the Trump-backed GOP candidates who have prevailed in high-profile races, journalist Alexander Bolton reports in an article published by The Hill on May 19, underscore the influence he still has on his party.

Republican primary candidates who have received Trump’s endorsement and gone on to win the GOP nomination include “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race and Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano in the Keystone State’s gubernatorial race. But far-right Trump ally Rep. Madison Cawthorn was voted out of office via a congressional primary in North Carolina on Tuesday, May 17, and the disgraced and scandal-plagued but Trump-backed businessman Charles Herbster lost to GOP nominee Jim Pillen in Nebraska’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Nonetheless, the Republican U.S. senators interviewed for Bolton’s article believe that Trump’s endorsements appear to be helping more often than not.

“Senate Republicans say the strong performances by Trump-backed candidates in the Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio GOP primaries show former President Trump maintains a vice-like grip on their party and will be the heavy favorite heading into the 2024 presidential election,” Bolton reports. “Trump has not only picked winners in various key gubernatorial, Senate and House primaries, but his endorsements in several high-profile instances appear to have propelled lagging candidates to victory. Lawmakers say this is most apparent in the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries, where Trump’s involvement appears to have altered the outcome of the election.”

Bolton adds, “Even if Trump can’t take all of the credit for producing winners, there’s no question his endorsement moves poll numbers, GOP senators say.”

In Pennsylvania’s GOP U.S. Senate primary, the Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz had a razor-thin lead over hedge fund executive Dave McCormick as of Thursday morning, May 19. But the votes were still being counted.

One of the Republican senators The Hill interviewed for Bolton’s article was Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. Although Romney is a Trump critic who voted “guilty” in Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2022, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee told The Hill, “There’s no question in my mind that he would become the nominee in 2024 if he decides to run for the Republican nomination…. He has a significant impact on state races, and he’ll win some and lose some. But surely, people will want his endorsement if they can get it.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, meanwhile, described Trump as “still the most significant person of influence in the party,” adding, “What he did in Pennsylvania is not insignificant if Dr. Oz pulls it out…. There’s just no question he’s still got a broad influence over a broad swath of Republican primary voters and activists.”

Nonetheless, Sen. John Thune of North Dakota cautioned against giving Trump too much credit in 2022’s Republican primaries.

Thune told The Hill, “The pundits will be interpreting these results…. In many of these cases, the people he endorsed performed well…. It’s not real clear-cut in the sense that you have, in most of these races, multiple candidates who are taking votes away from each other. So…. you can make some generalized assessments, but I don’t think you can make very specific ones.”

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