Tuesday marked the start of a month-long political experiment with real stakes: a test of Donald Trump’s power as he contemplates a political comeback.
A series of primaries in May will probe his continued influence with Republican voters more than a year after leaving office under a cloud of scandal.
The former president has embarked on the upcoming contests by making it clear which candidates he wants to field in this year’s midterm elections.
Republican voters across the country are picking their favorite candidates for the state and federal races, with May 3, 17 and 24 being particularly important.
If Trump has a good month, his power will only grow. A bad month will provide naysayers with fresh ammunition to argue he’s beatable, as he risks being tagged with the most dreaded name in Trump’s lexicon: Loser.
This test of influence started well for Trump. His favorite candidate won the Senate primary in Ohio, thanks in large part to Trump’s endorsement.
Ahead of the vote, Trump allies framed it as a larger showdown.
“We don’t want a circumstance where the establishment can claim to have defeated Trump,” said Congressman Matt Gaetz, speaking alongside compatriot Marjorie Taylor Greene. “So President Trump’s brand is at stake. The MAGA brand is at stake.”
They were speaking at an event for JD Vance, the Trump-endorsed lawyer, venture capitalist and author of the bestselling novel Hillbilly Elegy.
It’s the first of three important dates this month: after the primary in Ohio on May 3, there’s a contest on May 17 in Pennsylvania, then one in Georgia on May 24.
What makes these contests significant is Trump’s repeated hint that he plans to run for president again.
Polls suggest he would break to the nomination of his party, with all the revolutionary implications this implies for American politics.
There aren’t many opportunities to shake him up early and disrupt the calculation that he’s on an easy path to securing the 2024 nomination.
State of play in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia
A political scientist who studies political opinion and voter behavior at Ohio State University said he was skeptical that anything that could weaken Trump’s grip on the Republican Party – especially if this month happens good for him.
“[This is] a fascinating test of Trump’s approval power,” said Thomas Wood of The Ohio State University.
Trump has endorsed candidates for different reasons, ranging from their fame to their loyalty to him, his ideas and his campaign lies.
If Trump’s nominees are successful, Wood said, it would solidify his role as the presumptive nominee two years from now.
If his candidates fail, he said, other ambitious Republicans might sense an opening to prepare for a race in 2024. “It shows a huge opportunity for other party elites to take him on,” Wood said.
Early indications are promising for Trump. He demonstrated his power by almost single-handedly lifting Vance from candidate status to victory in the U.S. Senate nomination race as well.
The businessman-author held the No. 3 spot even after months of friendly coverage and prime-time appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. But Vance’s support surged last month when Trump endorsed him; the ex-president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also started campaigning for him.
Wood said the campaign was mostly about Trump: “It’s been almost devoid of issues.”
Because several candidates have agreed on issues such as taking a hard line on immigration, trade and China, the race has turned into a contest for Trump’s endorsement.
“We endorsed JP, didn’t we? JP Mandel. … I think Vance is doing well.”
– Donald Trump 5/1/2022 at a rally in Nebraska pic.twitter.com/x3BPSuAOUQ
The only real contender in the race who wasn’t running as Trump’s heir is Matt Dolan, a state senator whose family owns the Cleveland Major League Baseball team. It is critical Trump’s election lies and votes near the top.
The next big batch of primaries is coming in two weeks: In those races, Trump endorsed a famous candidate for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania, and one of the main challengers of the Republican Governor of Idaho.
“May 17 will tell us a lot”
“May 17 is going to tell us a lot,” said Jessica Taylor, an elected analyst to Cook’s political report.
Look no further than the almost comic number references to Trump to gauge his importance in the Pennsylvania Senate race.
Trump has infuriated many of his allies by dropping more conservative candidates and endorsing TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz.
There’s no guarantee Oz will win, as his rivals have hammered him like a Hollywood liberal, wildly out of step with the Republican Party. Oz’s vigilante is that he alone has Trump’s backing and he backed the former president to cast doubt on the 2020 election.
“Trump made risky bets here,” Taylor said.
A fundamental competition: Georgia
Perhaps the riskiest bet comes a week later, with Trump on a personal mission to unseat the Republican governor of Georgia.
What is at stake in this race is fundamental: it is not a political question, but rather the fundamental question of the certification of a democratic election. Trump has decided to end the careers of Brian Kemp and other state officials who certified Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
We’ll find out if he made it after Georgia’s May 24 primary. (Or a month later, if that initial vote ends in a second round.)
Lest there be any doubt about what is at stake in this race, Kemp’s challenger doubled down on his opening remarks during a candidates’ debate last week.
Former Senator David Perdue started with Trump’s fraudulent claims about the 2020 election – and he blamed the governor for it.
“First, folks, let me be very clear tonight: The 2020 election was rigged and stolen,” Perdue said. “Our governor gave in. … He sold us out.
“I’m proud to have President Trump’s endorsement.”
During tonight’s GA GOP Governor’s Debate, David Perdue pushes the big lie in his first sentence: “The 2020 election was rigged and stolen.”
“It all started in Georgia when our governor caved…”
Although he got lost, Perdue says Kemp “cost us the majority in the Senate.” pic.twitter.com/YweszE9xb7
Perdue essentially blamed the electoral concession for everything that followed: low Republican morale, the loss of his own Senate seat and everything from inflation to the threat of war with Russia.
If Democrats are watching any race closely, this is it. A liberal Washington Post writer has made it clear that he supports the humiliation de Perdue, whom he called an undemocratic liar, a sycophant and a reprobate.
Polls Pin up Trump’s candidate far behind.
What comes after May 24
Needless to say, the former president wouldn’t just humbly admit defeat.
Trump can just as easily point to victory for his other candidates, Taylor said, including former NFL star Herschel Walker, who has broad party support and is expected to easily win the Republican nomination for a Senate seat. in Georgia.
“It takes away some of the shine if its candidates don’t win. But I don’t think that makes it completely irrelevant,” Taylor said.
“Because he already controls the [Republican] electorate. Trump is basically all these primary candidates are talking about. Even though he may not have endorsed them, they fish out Trump voters; they approach him; they rent it,” she said.
“In the most recent [Republican] debates… it’s all about “I’m the trumpiest”. Here’s how I would implement Trump’s policies. Here’s why I think Trump is the greatest president of all time. So he’s still the driving force.”
This perception that Trump is running the show could actually backfire later in the general election in November, Taylor said. Some of these pro-Trump positions are likely to irritate moderate voters, even if they help persuade Republican voters midterm.
In the meantime, Trump has scores to settle in the primaries.
At the end of this month, on May 28, he leaves for a campaign rally in Wyomingwhere he hopes an August primary will end the career of a rare Republican who stood up to him on Jan. 6, 2021: Congresswoman Liz Cheney.