Talk of former President Trump’s loosening grip on the GOP may be overstated, as evidenced by Tuesday’s primary results in states like Arizona and Michigan.
Trump-backed candidates have picked up wins in the Senate primary in Arizona, the GOP governor’s race in Michigan, as well as House and secretary of state primaries.
Overall, the results show that Trump is still a powerful force within the GOP, even as questions about his viability as a presidential candidate in 2024 linger.
“I do think it should put to rest this idea that I think certain people in the party were wishcasting that Trump was losing influence when very clearly he hasn’t been,” said Andy Surabian, a GOP strategist and former Trump White House official.
Questions swirled in recent weeks about Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, driven largely by compelling hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol that revealed new details about Trump’s inaction amid the violence and his refusal to condemn his supporters.
Trump also had a fairly weak showing in Georgia’s primaries and subsequent runoffs, with multiple endorsed candidates losing. Then last month, a New York Times poll showed Republican voters were split on the idea of Trump running again in 2024.
But Tuesday’s primaries were overall a success for Trump.
Blake Masters prevailed in the Republican Arizona Senate primary with Trump’s backing. Kari Lake, Trump’s pick in the gubernatorial primary there, held a narrow lead as of late Wednesday and appeared poised to hold off Karrin Taylor Robson, who was endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). And Trump’s preferred candidate in the secretary of state race, election denier Mark Finchem, won his primary.
In Michigan, Tudor Dixon won the governor’s nomination after a late endorsement from Trump. Rep. Pete Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in 2021, narrowly lost to John Gibbs, who had Trump’s backing.
Eric Schmitt emerged from a crowded field in the Missouri Senate GOP primary to take the nomination after Trump endorsed “Eric,” without specifying if he meant Schmitt or Greitens, the former governor. But the move allowed the former president to claim victory in that race as well.
Trump’s only real blemishes appeared to be in Washington state, where two members of Congress who voted to impeach him after the Capitol riots were on track to win their primaries.
“Endorsements don’t get any more powerful or conclusive than the Endorsements of last night. I wonder if anyone will write or report that? Just asking?” Trump posted Wednesday morning on Truth Social, his fledgling social media platform.
“Ran the entire board!” he added in a subsequent post.
The former president’s track record of endorsements has been especially strong in primaries where there are multiple candidates vying for the nomination.
One GOP strategist also noted that there are scant examples of Republicans winning a primary by being vocally anti-Trump. Even individuals who have overcome Trump-backed primaries, like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), are still generally supportive of the former president.
Instead, Trump’s most ardent critics up for reelection in November have either opted to retire or are facing defeat.
The most prominent example is Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is facing a primary election on Aug. 16. Cheney has been a leading Trump critic for over a year, voting to impeach the former president and serving as vice chair of the committee investigating the Capitol riots.
A poll released last month by the Casper Star Tribune found Cheney trailing Harriet Hageman, who is backed by Trump, by 22 percentage points.
“Trump should be buoyed by his candidates’ performance last night. After Cheney’s destruction coming up, Trump will be in a prime position to launch his campaign and cruise smoothly through his primary,” said John Thomas, a Republican consultant who works on House campaigns.
While Trump remains the dominant figure within the GOP and has helped shape the outcome of several primaries, the next test will come in November when his candidates face a broader swath of voters.
Trump allies believe that the political environment will be so bad for Democrats, particularly if inflation remains high, that even those who currently trail in polling — such as Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania — could prevail.
But others are less sure.
Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Arizona who has worked on campaigns there for years, argued that candidates like Lake, Masters and Finchem, who have tied their entire candidacy to Trump, and in some cases specifically to his false claim that the 2020 election was rigged, will have a difficult time winning over independent voters and even some moderate Republicans in a general election in a purple state.
“The stranglehold was demonstrated last night that his candidates in very competitive primaries still prevailed,” Coughlin said. “So, the party itself is the party of Trump. And so, is that enough to win a general election in Arizona in November? I don’t believe it is. You’re going to have to do something more than that to win the general election in November."