ATLANTA ― Despite padding his “win-loss” record by primarily endorsing Republican incumbents who faced little or no opposition, Donald Trump’s drubbing in Georgia on Tuesday shows that his vaunted kingmaking power is no match for popular officeholders.
In Idaho, Nebraska and most significantly Georgia on Tuesday night, Trump’s attempts to punish Republicans who didn’t show him sufficient loyalty have flopped ― results that are certain to encourage others in his party eager to further weaken his onetime stranglehold on it.
“My sense is that Trump’s endorsement is worth less now than it was three months ago, and it will be worth even less in three months than it is now,” said Martha Zoller, a Georgia talk radio host who has worked for both Gov. Brian Kemp and his Trump-endorsed Republican challenger, former Sen. David Perdue.
Ever since he left office, Trump and his allies have continually pushed the idea that his control of the party was virtually absolute, and that his decision to endorse or disparage could make or break a candidacy. Several of the 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach Trump for his incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol concluded that Trump’s hold on their primary electorate was, in fact, so strong that reelection would be tough if not impossible and chose instead to retire.
To reinforce this fear, Trump and his supporters point to a lopsided win-loss record that suggests near invincibility.
But a HuffPost analysis of his endorsements reveals less of a lion and more of a rooster who takes credit for repeated sunrises that would have happened with or without any crowing. Of Trump’s endorsement “wins” through this weekend, 84% were incumbents seeking the nomination of their own party for reelection. Indeed, well over of half of his endorsements are incumbents in House and state legislative races, where sitting lawmakers, because of gerrymandering and the inherent advantages of incumbency, are nearly impossible to dislodge.
And Tuesday’s results in Georgia show that, at least in statewide elections, the fear of incurring Trump’s anger may be unfounded.
Trump tried to make Kemp public enemy No. 1 for refusing to overturn Trump’s 11,779-vote loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden. He recruited Perdue to run against Kemp. He staged rallies for Perdue where he continued attacking Kemp, even telling Georgians that Democrat Stacey Abrams would be an improvement over him.
Despite all of that, Kemp not only beat Perdue, but trounced him by a 74%-22% margin.
Trump similarly tried to take out Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr for failing to back up Trump’s lies that “voter fraud” caused his defeat. Carr beat Trump’s candidate by a 74%-26% margin.
Even Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump wanted removed for refusing his demands to steal the election for him and then making public a recording of that conversation, was able to defeat Trump’s recruited challenger, Rep. Jody Hice, 52%-33% ― a large enough margin to avoid a runoff.
Trump staff did not respond to queries from HuffPost.
One former senior Trump campaign official said that Trump does not really understand or care to learn about governor’s races. “He’s really bad at state-level politics,” he said on condition of anonymity.
A former Trump White House aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump, in addition to wanting to end Kemp’s political career, wanted governors like Alabama’s Kay Ivey and Idaho’s Brad Little to conduct “audits” of the 2020 election in their states to prove that voter fraud prevented him from winning those states by even larger margins. “He wanted those recounts in states he won to make a point, to show there was evidence of fraud,” the aide said.
When they refused, Trump withheld an endorsement, as in Ivey’s case, or backed a challenger, like he did against Little.
Ivey easily won her nomination for another term Tuesday night, while Little beat his Trump-endorsed lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, a week earlier.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a likely contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination who appeared with Kemp last week, said the party will lose voters if it continues to stand with Trump and his election lying.
“What the Republican Party is going to be deciding over the next several months is: Are we the ‘Party of Me,’ or are we the ‘Party of Us,’” he said during Kemp’s final pre-primary bus tour. “Now, if we’re going to be the Party of Me, then people aren’t going to vote for that kind of party. If we’re going to be the Party of Us, where we care about all the people that we represent … then we’re going to be a majority party not only in Georgia but in this country.”
An Obsession With ‘Winning’
Trump’s long obsession with maintaining an image as a “winner,” which became evident in his days as a real estate developer and a reality-TV game show host, has continued with his political endorsements.
Trump, his paid staff and his political allies repeatedly point to the “victories” he has chalked up already this election season. What they do not point out is how many of them are because Trump has mainly endorsed incumbents ― who typically win reelection and who almost always win their party’s nomination.
A HuffPost review of his endorsements through last weekend shows that of the 175 candidates in federal, state and local races across the country whom Trump had endorsed for elections this year, 111 ― or 63% ― are sitting incumbents.
Of the 73 primary “wins” he chalked up through May 17, 61 ― or 84% ― were from incumbents, most of whom won their nominations with only token opposition or no opposition at all.
In the Pennsylvania primary last week, for example, Trump endorsed four incumbent Republican House members: Mike Kelly, Scott Perry, Guy Reschenthaler and Lloyd Smucker. All four won their nominations. None faced an opponent on the ballot.
The former Trump White House aide laughed at Trump’s win-loss record, pointing out that while the national media descended on Georgia to chronicle the Kemp-Perdue race, they did not flock to Columbus, Indiana, on May 3 for the victory of Greg Pence over a virtually unknown challenger in the primary there. Yet Pence’s win counts as much in Trump’s win-loss record as Perdue’s would have.
“It’s one of 73 victories,” the aide said. “For the average American, they’re not going to look at his record. They’re going to see that he lost.”
Tuesday’s elections in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas gave Trump another 13 “wins” in uncontested or lightly contested races, with two Trump-endorsed congressional candidates in Georgia finishing second but forcing runoffs next month.
Trump, nevertheless, claimed a massive victory, ignoring the beating he took in Georgia entirely. “A very big and successful evening of political Endorsements,” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Overall for the ‘Cycle,’ 100 Wins, 6 Losses (some of which were not possible to win), and 2 runoffs. Thank you, and CONGRATULATIONS to all!”
It’s unclear where Trump’s claim of 100 “Wins” comes from.
Pushing The ‘Big Lie’
For the millions of Republican voters who remain ardent supporters of the former president and who believe his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Trump’s endorsement can and has made a difference, particularly in races for open seats.
In the May 3 Ohio primary, for example, Trump’s support for author and investment banker J.D. Vance in a crowded field of candidates seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman likely gave him the boost he needed to win with 32% of the vote, 8 points more than the second-place finisher.
And in West Virginia, where Trump won the popular vote 69%-30% in 2020, his support for Rep. Alex Mooney was almost certainly determinative in his primary race against fellow Rep. David McKinley on May 10. The two were forced to run against each other after the state lost a congressional seat following the 2020 census.
But unlike normal politicians who base endorsements on long-term alliances or shared policy views, Trump’s main criterion has instead been a willingness to embrace his constantly repeated elections lies.
He began spreading them in the wee hours of election night, and eventually tried to overthrow American democracy itself in a last-gasp attempt to retain power. The singular prerequisite of his endorsement has been to publicly agree with his falsehoods.
In Pennsylvania, the one thing hedge-fund manager David McCormick refused to do was agree to Trump’s claims that he had really won the election, a Republican close to McCormick’s Senate campaign said, and so Trump endorsed celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz. The two are now awaiting mail ballots to see who will win the nomination to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.
But by making every endorsement contingent on a candidate’s public affirmation of his election lies, Trump could make candidates who win the Republican nomination more vulnerable to defeat in November, particularly in statewide races. This is precisely what happened in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021. Trump had endorsed both GOP incumbents ― one was Perdue ― but simultaneously spread the message that the election system there was rigged and could not be trusted. Both Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler lost, handing control of the Senate to Democrats.
Similar results could be on the way in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan, as Trump-endorsed election-lie proponents either have already won or are likely to win nominations for governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
In Georgia, meanwhile, Trump’s insistence on backing Perdue just to punish Kemp allowed his Republican rivals and critics to publicly back Kemp and score an easy head-to-head win against Trump.
“I can honestly say I was for Brian Kemp before it was cool,” former Vice President Mike Pence, himself a likely 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, said at Kemp’s final pre-election rally Monday evening.
“I think this is a checkmate move by Pence,” the former Trump campaign aide said.
Added Zoller, the former aide to both Kemp and Perdue: “I don’t understand this fear of Donald Trump. I really don’t.”