Limits to Donald Trump’s influence with Republican voters are emerging after consecutive losses in key primaries, punctuated by Georgia nominating contests that saw Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defeat challengers endorsed by the former president.
Following losses by prominent Trump endorsees in GOP primaries in Idaho, Nebraska, and North Carolina, and mixed results for the former president in Pennsylvania, Republican voters in Georgia were rejecting Kemp's challenger, former Sen. David Perdue, by a whopping 50-plus percentage points with most precincts reporting Wednesday morning. Even the vulnerable Raffensperger won renomination, turning away Rep. Jody Hice, who failed, even, to hold the incumbent under 50% and force a runoff.
It was a stinging rebuke for Trump — and his ability to wield unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen to leash Republican politicians. The 45th president sunk enormous political capital into Perdue and Hice, framing their primaries, and other Georgia nominating contests in which his candidates lost, as referendums on his argument about the last election. Trump insists he won Georgia, alleging Kemp and Raffensperger facilitated a fraudulent victory by President Joe Biden.
“Raffensperger is the big tip-off here that the GOP is ready to move on in Georgia. He was dead man walking, and he’s a winner,” Erick Erickson, a conservative writer and talk radio host based in Georgia, said late Tuesday in a Twitter post. “Georgia Republicans do like Trump, but they’re tired of his bulls*** and want to move on.”
Since Trump propelled J.D. Vance to the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio on May 3, he has struggled to put candidates over the top in competitive GOP primaries for high office, revealing a former president whose considerable power over the party is on a downward trajectory.
FOR MANY REPUBLICANS, TRUMP'S 2020 FOCUS A DISTRACTION IN OTHERWISE STRONG CYCLE
Trump-endorsed candidates have since lost gubernatorial primaries in Nebraska and Idaho, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) lost renomination, and the former president’s pick for Senate in Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, was clinging to a narrow lead and might yet fall. On Tuesday in Georgia, Trump endorsees ran into more trouble, losing primaries for attorney general, governor, insurance commissioner, and secretary of state.
Meanwhile, also Tuesday, Rep. Mo Brooks recovered from losing Trump’s endorsement in the race for the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama, finishing second and advancing to a June 21 runoff. “Call me Lazarus! Back from the dead, resurrected by Alabama citizens who figured out who the real MAGA conservative is, and voted for America First,” Brooks said in a statement that read as a veiled shot at the former president.
Trump, mulling a 2024 presidential bid, would begin the primary as the favorite, based on polling of Republican voters who fondly recall his single White House term and express affection for him personally. But the demonstrated willingness on the part of GOP voters to oppose Trump’s preferred candidates for state and federal office, and their uninterest, generally, in relitigating the 2020 election, is emboldening potential challengers.
In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed David McCormick. And in Georgia, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined the parade of high-profile Republicans who traveled to the state to campaign for Kemp — and, therefore, very overtly against Trump. After Kemp’s rout of Perdue was made official by media projections, Christie used the occasion to mock Trump.
“Enormous win tonight for [Kemp.] I am so proud and happy for my friend — and just as importantly for the Georgia GOP and the people of Georgia,” Christie tweeted. “They were not going to kick out a great Governor or be willing participants in the DJT Vendetta Tour.”
Trump takes great pride in his influence over Republican voters as reflected by his aggregate win-loss record in the GOP primaries. He padded those numbers again on Tuesday with a host of wins.
In Alabama, several candidates backed by Trump advanced. It was the same in Arkansas, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders winning a gubernatorial primary and Sen. John Boozman winning renomination. Trump also ran up the score in Texas runoffs as his down-ballot picks romped and Attorney General Ken Paxton dispatched challenger George P. Bush, possibly putting an end to the Bush political dynasty. And in Georgia, Trump claimed victory in a couple of closely watched federal races.
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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won, as did Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker. In comments the former president posted on Truth Social, the Twitter-like social media platform he founded, he downplayed losses and ignored the fact that none of the primaries that his candidates won were competitive (Walker, a folk hero in the state stemming from his professional football career and days as a star athlete at the University of Georgia, did not need Trump to win.)
“A very big and successful evening of political Endorsements,” the former president said. “All wins in Texas (33 & 0 for full primary list), Arkansas, and Alabama. A great new Senatorial Candidate, and others, in Georgia. Overall for. The “Cycle,” 100 Wins, 6 Losses (some of which were not possible to win), and 2 runoffs.”