Trump is still the orange elephant in the room

19 May 2022

3:06 AM

19 May 2022

3:06 AM

The big news stories this morning are not just about the results of yesterday’s primary elections, but about how big of an impact Donald Trump’s endorsements did or did not have. Politico, CNN, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Hill, and others have all sounded off on this subject — proving that Trump is, indeed, still quite influential. To center-left publications, at least.

Until very recently, Trump had an impressive 55-0 endorsement winning streak. He finally struck out with Charles Herbster, who was running for governor of Nebraska amid several sexual misconduct allegations. Last night’s results, however, have called into question Trump’s “status as GOP kingmaker” (as Newsweek phrased it). As the Hill reports, “Tuesday was a mixed night at best for Trump.”

Though there are many reasonable ways to evaluate Trump’s role in these races, a few takeaways stand out as more cut and dry: Trump isn’t going away — his words matter in a big way, one way or another, as millions of Republicans used his endorsement to gauge their support for candidates, even if they sometimes stray from 45 in the voting booth. Meanwhile, President Biden’s two endorsements (did anyone actually want his endorsement?) have done little more than “reopen intraparty wounds.” Ouch.

Another striking thing Tuesday showed us is that Republicans appear to be moving further right. In Pennsylvania, for instance, state Senator Doug Mastriano clinched the gubernatorial nomination despite — or because of? — his assertions that there was fraud during the 2020 elections and his presence at the nation’s capital on January 6.

“Mastriano’s victory underlines, one more time, just how the fictions propagated by former President Trump have been mainstreamed among Republican voters,” notes the Hill. The likes of a “moderate” Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney were nowhere to be found in these primary races.

We also learned that despite Trump’s undeniable power in boosting candidates, his authority does have its limits. Republicans want harder-core conservatives to stand up to the growing extremism of the left, but they don’t want scandal-ridden crazy people. Voters still have some moral standards — if not for themselves, at least for the candidates they support. Trump? Maybe not so much.

We know the guy likes to win, as he admitted his controversial endorsement of celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania was because “Oz will be the one most able to win the General Election against a Radical Left Democrat.” Whereas voters, especially in the primary, are likely to lead with their hearts. Remember that Trump is a businessman, and when he hedges his bets, he does it strategically, not emotionally.

Herbster, as I mentioned, lost in Nebraska after several women accused him of being a perv (he denies these claims). Yet Trump — himself no stranger to controversy — stood by and defended him.

Trump first backed Sean Parnell for Pennsylvania’s US Senate seat, but after Parnell withdrew his candidacy over “personal problems,” Trump threw his support behind Dr. Mehmet Oz. Oz’s “shifting” conservatism has been the subject of much hullabaloo, and his victory, even with Trump’s endorsement, is no sure thing (the race between Oz and Dave McCormick hasn’t been called yet). Many Republicans were happy to defy Trump’s Oz endorsement in favor of “ultra MAGA” candidate Kathy Barnette. Trump himself — again, as a savvy businessman — doubled down on his support of the more likely winner (Oz), while remaining careful not to dismiss Barnette outright, in case she did manage to pull off a shock win.

Then there’s the curious case of North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn, whose weekly scandals are getting to be a bore. Trump supported Cawthorn’s congressional re-election campaign, but the “pro-Trump firebrand” conceded his bid last night. Sad.

Did Trump choose candidates who were already well on their way to winning? Or did his endorsement catapult most of these winners to the top? Likely a mix of both, depending on the state. Oz, for instance, already had mega name recognition and familiarity thanks to his popular, long-running television show, and millions of dollars to finance his campaign. Other candidates, such as J.D. Vance in Ohio, received an undeniable boost because of Trump.

Regardless, what other political leader in the last fifty years has garnered this kind of influence? Trump is a reference point for every forecast and factors into every politically oriented conversation. Every candidate I can think of was vying for Trump’s endorsement and tried to endear themselves to him. What we’ve learned is that “MAGA king” Trump is not infallible. And that’s a good thing. But he is still very, very clearly the big, popular elephant in the room, and the movement he played a huge role in growing is alive and well.

Here’s my impression: Republicans are still inclined to respect Trump’s opinions and support him, but they’ve moved further right since he was in the White House. Trump, if he wants to win in 2024, will take note of this increased polarization and act accordingly.

Meanwhile, it’s obvious the left is still obsessed with (and afraid of) the former president. CNN was so giddy about Trump’s potential fall from grace, they wrote the day before the elections that he “could be facing an endorsement Waterloo this week.” The mainstream media appears to have taken these races more seriously than anyone on the right did, using these primaries as a test of Trump’s popularity, both now and two years from now. After last night, they should be disappointed.

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