Former President Donald Trump is still the top kingmaker for Republican candidates in primaries, but analysts say he is denting the GOP’s chances to win some of those races in November.
Soon after Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidate, John Gibbs, defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Peter Meijer in a Michigan primary last week, prognosticators downgraded the GOP’s chances to hold that seat in the general election.
They believe the more moderate Mr. Meijer, who had voted to impeach Mr. Trump, stood a better chance than Mr. Gibbs in November in the newly drawn, more Democrat-friendly, district.
Some Republican leaders fear that the same scenario will play out in other races such as in Arizona, where Trump-backed candidates won primaries for governor and Senate espousing his stolen election claims, potentially widening the gulf for Republicans in those races.
Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan election tracker, said Mr. Trump is prolific in his endorsements, building a high win-loss percentage in primaries by backing Republicans in races where they face only token opposition.
That gives the former president plenty of room to point to victories, obscuring the more meaningful swing-seat races, where the Republican candidate’s appeal to a broader voter base can determine victory or defeat.
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“Overall, yes, he has an impressive record, but when you look at it, he is endorsing a lot of shoo-ins and candidates in safe races,” Mr. Rubashkin said. “When you look at competitive races, it is much less clear whether there is any real positive effect of a Trump endorsement in a general election.”
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas on Saturday, Mr. Trump urged Republicans not to become complacent ahead of the November elections and warned that the U.S. stands at the precipice of becoming “Venezuela on steroids” should Democrats maintain control in Washington.
“This is no time for complacency,” Mr. Trump said. “We have to seize this opportunity to deal with the radical left, socialist lunatics and fascists. And we have to hit them very, very hard. It has to be a crippling defeat. We have to run aggressive, unrelenting and boldly populist campaigns”.
Mr. Trump’s record of endorsements in the 2018 midterm general election was mixed.
In the 20 most competitive House contests in which Mr. Trump threw his muscle behind a candidate, Democrats won 16 of them. Mr. Trump’s candidates, meanwhile, came out on top in half of the top ten Senate races.
John Couvillon, president and founder of JMC Analytics and Polling, a political consulting firm, said the political landscape this year is dramatically different, and because of that Mr. Trump is well-positioned to compile a better win-loss endorsement record this fall.
In an election where the wind appears to be at the GOP’s back, Mr. Couvillon said winning the Trump stamp of approval could further motivate an already motivated base in toss-up races.
“If you are talking about a congressional district that is politically marginal, those few extra points of jazzed up voters, I would argue, matter in an off-year election like this,” he said.
Indeed, just as the 2018 election was a referendum on Mr. Trump, the 2022 midterms are a referendum on Mr. Biden, who is getting low marks from voters on everything from inflation to crime and immigration.
The latest FiveThirtyEight average of polls shows 55.6 % of voters disapprove of Mr. Biden, and 39.3% approve. At this same point in his presidency, Mr. Trump was underwater, but not as deeply: 52.8% disapproved and with 41.4% approved.
Mr. Trump’s primary endorsements, meanwhile, have been rattling off the victories. According to a running tally from Ballotpedia, Trump-supported candidates have won 173 primary races and lost 14 at the federal and state levels. That’s a winning record of 92.5%. In Senate races this year, for example, Mr. Trump is 15-0.
“This has been an exceptional week for the America First Movement – exceptional,” Mr. Trump said at a rally Friday in Wisconsin. “You probably saw the Trump-endorsed candidate Blake Masters easily won the nomination for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, Kari Lake won the nomination for Arizona governor, Tudor Dixon won the nomination for Michigan governor, John Gibbs, great guy, defeated RINO Congressman Peter Meijer.”
“This week we are 45 wins and no losses,” Mr. Trump said. “And in Texas a few weeks ago — 33 and 0 — and plenty of those candidates were not expected to win.”
Mr. Trump said that momentum is going to spill over into the primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin, where he has endorsed another slate of contenders, including Sen. Ron Johnson, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.
Mr. Trump’s most public setbacks have come in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger beat back their GOP challengers.
Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina also defeated her Trump-backed rival in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
The former president’s biggest victories came in Arizona, and in Ohio, where Mr. Trump’s backing helped Senate candidate J.D. Vance put distance between himself and the crowded field.
Democrats say they hope Mr. Trump keeps it up.
“The MAGA Republican brand is toxic with battleground district voters,” said Helen Kalla, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats. “Any candidate who embraces the extreme MAGA agenda of banning abortion and throwing out votes they don’t like is sealing their fate this November.”
Trump supporters counter that Democrats are out of touch.
“Voters are hungry for the America First policies and leadership that delivered record low unemployment, record low energy costs, a record high stock market, safe cities, and global peace,” said Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich. “President Trump is the leader who was able to deliver those results and it’s his endorsed candidates who will help usher in a return to that America First agenda.”
— Joseph Clark contributed to this report.