He endorsed 16 candidates in primaries held across America yesterday and all 16 won. Which, er, sounds like the dictionary definition of “a good night.”
But an important footnote to that 16-0 record are the races in which he chose not to endorse anyone despite the fact that one of his political enemies was on the ballot. That includes four Republicans who voted in favor of establishing a January 6 commission, one Republican who voted for impeachment(!), and a Republican senator whose career was declared “over” by Trump during the “stop the steal” period.
Politico examines its scorecard:
Five of the 35 House Republicans who voted to establish a Jan. 6 Commission faced primaries on Tuesday. Trump vowed to exact revenge on all of them. How’d they fare?
— In Iowa, Rep. MARIANNETTE MILLER-MEEKS ran uncontested.
— In South Dakota, Rep. DUSTY JOHNSON won with almost 59% of the vote.
— In New Jersey, Rep. CHRIS SMITH won with 58% of the vote.
— In Mississippi, a 50% threshold state, Rep. MICHAEL GUEST was forced into a runoff against a MAGA opponent who attacked his vote for the commission. Trump did not endorse in the race. Will he enter the fray before the June 28 runoff?
The fifth Republican on the ballot who voted for the January 6 commission was David Valadao of California, one of the 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment after the insurrection. Just 42 percent of the votes have been counted in his district as of this morning but at the moment he’s in second place, six points ahead of his nearest Republican rival, a result that would send him to the general election in November if it holds up. Another Republican running there has 10 percent of the vote. Why didn’t Trump endorse one of Valadao’s two righty challengers to try to consolidate the MAGA wing?
We’re left to wonder if his painful experience in Georgia with Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger has made him more gun-shy about spending political capital on trying to defeat Republican incumbents. Maybe he had reason to believe from internal polling that Valadao would finish in the top two regardless of whether he endorsed an alternative or not. If so, Trump may have decided to sit back and play it safe. If Valadao lost, he could crow that it was the impeachment vote that did him in. If he won, Trump could say that it was only because he chose not to weigh in on the race.
As for that Republican senator whose career was supposedly “over” for refusing to join the 2020 coup attempt:
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) easily survived a primary on Tuesday, putting him on a glide path to a fourth term in the Senate…
Thune, the Senate minority whip, irked former President Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election by waving off an effort by Trump and his allies to challenge the Electoral College vote and block President Biden’s victory…
But Thune faced only token opposition in the primary and ultimately coasted to victory on Tuesday over his four Republican rivals.
On December 22, 2020, Thune was asked about the prospect of House Republicans trying to stop Biden’s victory from being certified on January 6 and said the effort would “go down like a shot dog” in the Senate. Trump didn’t appreciate that. “Republicans in the Senate so quickly forget. Right now they would be down 8 seats without my backing them in the last Election. RINO John Thune, ‘Mitch’s boy’, should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!” he tweeted afterward.
Two years later, Thune won his primary in a cakewalk. What happened?
I think Trump sized up the political terrain in South Dakota and concluded that even he might lack the muscle to get a well-liked low-key Republican leader tossed out. He received an early warning about that from the state’s other well-known Republican on the same day as the “shot dog” comment:
.@johnthune is a friend of mine, and I will not be challenging him. I’m honored to be Governor of South Dakota and will ask the people to give me an opportunity to continue serving them as Governor in 2022.
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) December 23, 2020
That was Noem warning Trump and MAGA to look elsewhere for a South Dakota version of David Perdue. In the end, Trump appears to have behaved with uncharacteristic judiciousness, deciding that Thune was likely to prevail even if he went all-in to beat him and therefore it would be wiser to stay out. It’s unclear why he didn’t come to the same conclusion about Kemp, especially since the primary effectively decides the outcome of the general election in Thune’s state. My guess is that Trump feels Kemp’s act of “disloyalty” was a greater betrayal than Thune’s was, as Thune was one of many Republican senators who refused to block certification whereas Kemp had sole responsibility for certifying Georgia’s results. And Thune was a senator before Trump entered politics whereas Trump helped Kemp win Georgia’s gubernatorial primary in 2018. Kemp wouldn’t have his job today without Trump so he “owed” him. Not so with Thune.
There’s another reason why Trump might be suddenly gun-shy about risky endorsements. Each time he jumps into a race and suffers an embarrassment a la Georgia, it ignites another round of “Could Trump be beaten in a 2024 primary?” coverage from the media. Just yesterday, Politico reported on how some western conservatives have a fever and the only prescription is more Ron DeSantis:
“There is no real party standard-bearer at the moment, and DeSantis in many eyes is starting to define the post-Trump party,” said Tyler Sandberg, a veteran Republican GOP operative, based in Colorado. “He fights more about policy and less on his Twitter account.”…
“The reaction to DeSantis was incredible,” said Paul Jackson, a Nevada Republican consultant who was at the Las Vegas event. “People were lining up in 100 degree weather to see him, it was amazing enthusiasm. People were there just to try and catch a glimpse.”
“My sense is there are two types of Trump supporters. Those who are with him and nothing else matters,” Jackson added. “And those who support Trump’s policy, but not the things the man says, and that might be a bigger group. DeSantis fits that bill well.”
Times reporter Maggie Haberman pointed to that Politico report as a partial explanation of why Trump wants to announce his 2024 candidacy sooner rather than later. The longer he waits, the more time DeSantis-mania has to build among Republicans thinking ahead to the next election.
Anyway, long story short: It was a good night for Trump but largely because he had no real skin in the game. Next week that’ll change when Nevada and South Carolina hold their primaries. He’s endorsed Adam Laxalt, who’s facing a surprisingly strong challenge from outsider Sam Brown, and he’s raged against Nancy Mace, who’s leading her Trump-back challenger in the polls. Stay tuned.