Trump, the GOP kingmaker, has endorsed nearly 40 Republicans running in races this year and next year
Fox News | by Paul Steinhauser | September, 2021
Former President Trump’s endorsement is hands-down the most sought after in the Republican Party, and Trump isn’t disappointing.
The former president – eight months removed from the White House – remains extremely popular and influential with Republican voters and politicians as he aims to continue playing a kingmaker’s role in the GOP.
And as Trump repeatedly flirts with another White House run in 2024, thanks to a spate of recent endorsements, he’s now backed nearly 40 Republicans running in elections this year and next year, from statewide races such as senator and governor to down-ballot contests.
It’s uncharted waters for a former president to remain so immensely involved in party politics. But Trump’s no normal former president.
“Once again former President Trump is proving to march to the beat of his own drums,” veteran political scientist Wayne Lesperance said. The vice president of academic affairs at New England College said the number of Trump endorsements so far this year are “unheard of in recent political memory.”
The former president’s political endorsements come as the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. Sometimes Trump’s endorsements are in sync with Republican leaders in Congress, and sometimes they’re divergent. And often they’re bestowed on those Republicans who support his repeated unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him. Among them are secretary of state candidates in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, three states Trump narrowly lost last year to now-President Biden.
Regardless of the circumstances, Trump’s backing carries an incredible amount of clout within the GOP.
“President Trump’s endorsement is the most powerful and sought after endorsement in the history of American politics,” Taylor Budowich, the communications director for the former president’s leadership PAC, told Fox News. “He will continue to identify and support strong candidates who will advocate for his America First agenda in Congress and state houses across the nation.”
A key battleground state where the former president’s weighed in on the top contests on the ballot next year is Georgia, where Trump holds a rally on Saturday.
Two months after Biden topped Trump by a razor-thin margin in Georgia, the Democrats swept the state’s twin Senate runoff contests, giving them the majority in the chamber.
For months, Trump’s vowed to return to Georgia, to take aim at the top Republicans in the state – Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – to politically punish them for refusing to help his efforts to overturn the election results in the Peach State.
Trump’s endorsed Rep. Jody Hice in his primary challenge against Raffensperger and he’s backing state Sen. Burt Jones in the race to succeed Duncan, who decided against running for reelection next year. While Trump has yet to support any primary challenge against Kemp, he’s pledged to return to Georgia to campaign against the governor.
Hice and Jones will speak at Saturday’s rally, along with former professional and college football star Herschel Walker, who after the repeated urgings of the former president, launched a Republican Senate bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.
Some advisers in Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s orbit had initial misgivings about the former president’s endorsement of Walker – a Trump ally with strong name ID in Georgia, but a first-time candidate who’s untested and comes with baggage that could be used by his opponents, putting in jeopardy the GOP chances of flipping a crucial blue Senate seat red.
Trump’s already endorsed challengers taking on four of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him at the beginning of the year for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists aimed at disrupting congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
And Trump’s backing former Alaska commissioner of administration Kelly Tshibaka, who’s challenging longtime Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only one of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump in February’s impeachment trial who’s potentially running for reelection next year.
Some Republicans worry that Trump’s backing of challengers against sitting Republicans he considers traitors could come back to haunt the GOP in the 2022 general elections.
Duncan charged that Trump’s moves are “counterproductive and confusing to Republicans.”
And he spotlighted criticism that Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rampant with voter fraud contributed to a suppressed Republican turnout in the January runoffs, which saw GOP incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler defeated by razor-thin margins.
“We’ve seen the circus come to town before, most memorably during the runoff with Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. We watched how 99.9% of the festivities were centered around him, talking about how he was wronged in an election, it was a fraudulent deal, and just creates and sows chaos and confusion as to why people should or shouldn’t show up to vote,” Duncan told Fox News.
Duncan said “at the end of the day I’m grateful for his conservative leadership.” But he lamented that if the former president “just spent the whole time talking about how well he led on some of these issues, we’d be better off for it. But history is a great predictor of the future and he’s not going to do that. He’s going to come down here and throw darts at a very conservative governor, throw darts at Brad Raffensperger and my direction, and do nothing about how to help codify and coalesce a Republican majority to win these elections.”
Trump’s Alaska endorsement puts him at odds with McConnell. The two are on the same page in Nevada, where former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has Trump’s backing and appears to be the consensus candidate of Senate Republicans.
While Trump’s yet to take sides in the large and combustible GOP Senate primaries in Arizona, Ohio and Missouri, the former president’s endorsements in contested Senate primaries in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Alabama, along with Georgia, are not sitting well with some Republicans in those states and on Capitol Hill.
In New Hampshire, where national Republicans are working hard to try and land GOP Gov. Chris Sununu to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan next year, Trump’s created some tension.
Trump last week praised retired Gen. Don Bolduc, the only declared Republican candidate in the race, after Bolduc took aim at Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” That raised eyebrows, considering the full-court press to recruit Sununu.
On Monday, Bolduc told Fox News that a few hours after his “Fox and Friends” interview, he received a call from Trump.
“I was on a call talking to a supporter and I saw a call come in and I looked at it and it said ‘wireless caller West Palm Beach’,” Bolduc said.
Bolduc told Fox News that he and the former president spoke on the phone for 15 minutes, remarking that Trump told him, “Don, I just wanted to give you a call and tell you I think you’re doing a great job out there. … I think you’re a leader out there and I wanted to give you some recognition.”
While Bolduc said he and Trump didn’t discuss any potential endorsement in the GOP Senate primary in New Hampshire, the candidate added that “I honestly believe I have a strong chance of getting his endorsement. I am going to continue to work hard in hopes of winning that endorsement.”
Sources close to the former president told Fox News that Trump’s praise of Bolduc should not be interpreted as an endorsement.
But regardless, Trump’s praise gave Bolduc plenty of attention, potentially boosting his bid for the GOP Senate nomination.
While Trump’s endorsements — for better or worse — immediately impact the 2022 race, Lesperance also sees an ulterior motive. “It seems clear, Mr. Trump is playing the role of kingmaker in a way that ensures he has allies in place should he make a run again for president,” he surmised.
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.