When former President Donald Trump was in the White House, he bragged on Twitter: “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!” And he was right: In the 2018 and 2020 Republican primaries, Trump’s endorsement was like a golden ticket to the general election.
Now that he’s out of office, however, Trump’s patrons aren’t winning as often as they used to, a potential concern for the former president as he considers another presidential campaign in 2024. But that doesn’t mean his influence in the party is waning. Rather, the decline in Trump’s endorsement win rate likely has more to do with him picking harder fights than with voters turning their backs on him. And in absolute terms, his patrons still win far more often than they lose. So while there are signs that Trump’s influence within the GOP is waning, he remains a powerful figure within the party.
On the surface, Trump’s endorsement record is nearly perfect. According to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight, the former president has endorsed 189 Republican candidates in the Senate, House and gubernatorial primaries that ran through Aug. 23. And 180 of them, 95 percent, won the Republican nomination or advanced to the general election. .
But we shouldn’t take that statistic at face value. Many of these endorsements were from candidates who would almost certainly win anyway, an example of Trump increasing his win rate to exaggerate his influence. For example, 61 of the Trump-backed candidates faced no opposition and another 84 were incumbents, who rarely lose their primaries. In fact, he only lost one Trump-backed incumbent: Rep. Madison Cawthorn.
That means that of Trump’s 189 endorsements, only 44 were from non-starters in contested primaries, the riskiest kind of endorsement to make. And only 36 of these candidates won, giving Trump a lower victory rate of 82 percent.
|Primary Type||Endorsee Type||endorsements||win||win rate|
|… who chose the headlines||10||6||60|
|… in open seats||3. 4||30||88|
An 82 percent win rate would be the envy of most backers, but for Trump, it’s a bit of a disappointment. In 2020, those same types of candidates won 96 percent of their races (24 of 25), and in 2018, their win rate among this group was 89 percent (17 of 19).
One of the main reasons for this decline is that Trump adopted a different endorsement strategy this year: He actively tried to defeat many sitting governors and members of Congress, who, of course, are very difficult to beat. In total, Trump endorsed 10 non-incumbents running against the incumbents, with only six of them winning or advancing to the general election, a 60 percent win rate that largely explains Trump’s lower overall win rate in 2022.
Still, more of these gambles paid off and, in particular, Trump used these endorsements to reshape the party in his image. In all, six of the incumbents he targeted to defeat supported the effort to impeach him for his role in inciting the attack on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, with only two of them surviving: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse.
In other words, Trump embarked on a crusade this year to rid the party of its critics, and he was wildly successful.
Trump’s win rate in contested non-incumbent primaries (30 of 34, or 88 percent) was also lower than in 2020 (96 percent), but it was not unprecedented; he had the same win rate in these kinds of primaries in 2018. This may be because Trump endorsed some pretty flawed candidates this cycle as well. Three of the four losers in this category faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Eight women accused of businessman Charles Herbster (who ran for Governor of Nebraska) of unwanted sexual advances. Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (who ran for Senate) allegedly beaten, groped and blackmailed a woman he was having an affair with, as well as allegedly forcing her to perform oral sex. And former state Rep. Vernon Jones (running for Georgia’s 10th district) was accused of rape.
Some of these failed endorsements also suggest (surely to Trump’s annoyance) that, when the Republican establishment decides to go toe-to-toe with him, the establishment sometimes wins. In the Nebraska gubernatorial primary, the state’s outgoing governor supported University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who ended up defeating Herbster. And in the Missouri Senate race, top Republican donors and allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spent millions of dollars to stop Greitens.
On the other hand, several of Trump’s losses in this category were confined to Georgia, a particularly brutal state for Trump this cycle. Republicans turned down not only Jones, but also attorney Jake Evans (running in District 6) and former Sen. David Perdue (running for governor against incumbent Brian Kemp). In particular, Trump’s backers for Attorney General, Secretary of state other insurance commissioner He also lost in Georgia, but those last three don’t show up in our numbers since we don’t track races on the ballot.
Clearly, Trump’s endorsement has not been a panacea. Other factors, such as the incumbency or the weakness of the candidates, sometimes outweigh it. But it’s also important to remember that these losses are exceptions to the rule; his endorsement still carries a lot of weight. For example, we said just a few paragraphs ago that a 60 percent win rate against incumbents was low, and for Trump it is, but it’s also remarkably high when you consider that incumbents historically win renomination 95 percent of the time. times or more.
Also consider how many candidates likely would not have won without Trump’s endorsement. It’s hard to quantify exactly how many votes a Trump endorsement is worth, but take someone like author JD Vance. He was languishing in second, third or even fifth place in the Republican Party primaries for the Ohio Senate until Trump backed it up. Then he entered almost each public poll of the race, ultimately triumphing over a divided field, with 32 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, former TV host Kari Lake was a conspiracy theorist who had never run for office before, but with Trump in his cornerwon the Republican nomination for governor of Arizona against a candidate backed by much of the republican established.
Also in Arizona, venture capitalist and Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters had led only in polls sponsored by his supporters, but after Trump endorsed him in June, he led in multiple successively center and ultimately won with 40 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, in the Wisconsin gubernatorial primary, businessman Tim Michels jumped into the race late and won, erasing what had been a wide lead for former government lieutenant Rebecca Kleefisch — thanks in part to Trump’s endorsement. And finally, Trump’s pick for the Pennsylvania Senate, noted physician Mehmet Oz, also won his primary by just 953 votes; considering all of Oz’s baggage as a New Jersey transplant who once held liberal views on abortion and gunsit seems very likely that he owes his victory to Trump as well.
Also, some candidates who were probably already on track to win seemed to get a nice boost of support after Trump endorsed them. State Senator Doug Mastriano held only about a 10 percentage point advantage in center of the Republican primaries for governor of Pennsylvania, but after Trump backed it up the weekend before the primary, Mastriano appeared to experience a surge in support, winning by more than 23 points. Similarly, Independent center of the Michigan gubernatorial primary taken just before Trump backed up TV commentator Tudor Dixon gave him just a single-digit lead over his opponents, but a few days later he won the primary by 18 points.
Even some candidates who did not face serious competition benefited from Trump’s support in the invisible primary, demonstrating his influence among Republican elites as well. For example, Trump’s first cycle endorsement was for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of his former press secretaries, for governor of Arkansas. At the time of her endorsement, there were two high-ranking officials in Arkansas: Lt. government Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, in that race, but eventually abandonment other cleared the field for Sanders. Similarly, Trump’s endorsement of former football player Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate likely prevented stronger candidates, such as Representative Buddy Carterto participate in the race (in fact, Walker, who until recently lived in Texas, may not have run at all without trump is urgent).
So if you were hoping that Trump’s endorsement record in 2022 would give you a definitive answer on whether his grip on the GOP has weakened since he left office, you’re out of luck. As best we can tell, it’s clear that his backup is often still pretty powerful, but he’s not invincible either. And it’s also probably a good way to think about Trump’s future in the party. Polls show it’s still extremely popular among the Republican base, but that’s a healthy portion of the party ready to walk away from him compared to 2024.
Furthermore, regardless of how far Republican voters are willing to follow Trump, it is clear that they continue to yearn for the populist and illiberal ethos he represents. He considers that when his endorsed candidates lost their primaries this year, he generally did not go against the anti-Trump wing of the party; it was for candidates who also hugged Trump even though he didn’t hug them.
The candidates who defeated Evans and Jones in Georgia, for example, still believed strongly in Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Meanwhile, even though Trump endorsed a challenger against him, Idaho Gov. brad little hush supported a lawsuit to cancel the election. and Rep. Nancy Mace, a Vocal critic of Trump’s actions on January 6stepped back from that stance, throwing a Flattering video in front of Trump Tower during his elementary school. Even Kemp, who accepted the legitimacy of the 2020 election, broadcast announcements that tapped into Trump’s “America First” nationalism.
In other words, even if Trump’s personal influence in the Republican Party is waning, Trumpism it is definitely here to stay.