Donald Trump Is Realizing the Limits of His Power in GOP Primaries

Former President Donald Trump has long touted the importance of his endorsements in the Republican primary processes and as crucial midterms approach, he's been offering his backing to a range of candidates.

However, the power of the former president's endorsement could be called into question as some of his preferred candidates have faced attacks from others in the GOP.

Trump faced some conservative criticism for endorsing celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race, with Fox News host Laura Ingraham saying it was a "mistake."

In Ohio, Trump has formally endorsed J.D. Vance for the Senate despite the fact Vance has been trailing Republican rival Josh Mandel. It remains to be seen if the former president's nod will be decisive.

On Tuesday, the Trump-endorsed candidate for Tennessee's 5th congressional district, Morgan Ortagus, was removed from the primary ballot after a vote by the state party. She has said she's looking at her options.

And in Georgia, Trump is backing former U.S. Senator David Perdue in his primary challenge to Governor Brian Kemp but Kemp appears to be well positioned to defeat Perdue.

Sean Parnell, who Trump previously endorsed in the Pennsylvania Senate race, dropped out amid his estranged wife's accusations of abusive behavior and Trump withdrew his endorsement from Representative Mo Brooks in the Alabama Senate race, possibly because of his poor showing in the polls despite an initial lead.

Political experts who spoke to Newsweek suggested that while the former president's endorsement still mattered, it may not carry the same weight it once did—and that could have implications for a potential Trump 2024 presidential bid.

Trump's Party

Robert Singh, a professor at the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, told Newsweek that the former president may have less of a hold over the GOP than has been imagined.

"Although the Republican Party now is much more Trump's party than Ronald Reagan's, Trump has had a very uneven record in terms of endorsing Republican candidates for Congress and state positions," Singh said.

"What this shows is that while he remains popular among rank-and-file GOP voters, his supposed 'hold' on the party is more tenuous than many imagine," he went on.

A Repeat of 2010

Singh suggested that "establishment" Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "are desperate to avoid a repeat of 2010, where the GOP could have won the Senate but failed to do so because of some eccentric nominees."

McConnell made reference to the 2010 midterms during comments in Kentucky on April 12 where he warned that Republicans would struggle to win if they nominate "somebody who's just sort of unacceptable to a broader group of people" in competitive races.

In one famous case, the Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, recorded a TV ad assuring voters she was not a witch, addressing comments she had made during an appearance on Bill Maher's show, Politically Incorrect, in 1999.

"So, many Trump-endorsed figures face stiff competition from more party-focused Republicans," Singh explained.

Personal Fealty

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek that Republicans will still seek Trump's endorsement.

"Trump is often described as having a cult-like following among his core supporters," Gift said. "Yet his uneven record in picking primary winners proves that the GOP base doesn't acquiesce to his every whim."

"Trump voters are much more impulsive, unpredictable, and ideologically-motivated than they're often given credit for," he said. "The personal fealty they display toward their leader, in other words, isn't unbounded."

Gift said that despite this, Trump's endorsement "is still highly coveted, and in tight races, there's no doubt it could give candidates the marginal boost they need to secure a win."

"The fact that virtually every Republican contender wants Trump's blessing is evidence of his continued popularity with the party," he added.

Trump in 2024

Trump is still considered the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Polls have shown majorities of GOP voters favor him and he has repeatedly hinted at a third White House run.

Robert Singh told Newsweek that the opposition Trump-endorsed candidates face "probably won't be decisive on whether Trump runs again."

"Privately, he has told many figures that he is running, but the laws on campaign financing mean that he has no incentive to declare anytime soon—even after the midterms," Singh said.

"With ample money, name recognition, and media attention, he can wait, still knowing he's the frontrunner in what promises to be a very large field of presidential aspirants," he went on.

However, Singh said that "what the hit-and-miss record of endorsements confirm is that many Republicans are looking actively for alternatives."

"Trump may run again for the GOP nomination but it is by no means a certainty that he will secure it in the face of, ironically, a roster of candidates who can offer the positives of a Trumpian candidacy without the negatives that turn voters off," he said.

Boldness

Thomas Gift said that some GOP operatives "might question the wisdom of Trump risking his political capital on primary candidates who ultimately lose."

"Fair enough," Gift said. "But true to form, Trump seems more interested in actually helping candidates who he sees as loyal to him and his agenda."

"The fact that he's not just anointing candidates who already have a clear path to victory is indicative of the kind of boldness that many supporters admire about Trump," Gift added.

Newsweek has asked former President Trump's office for comment.

Trump Speaks at CPAC in Florida
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 26, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Trump has continued to tout the power of his endorsements in the upcoming midterm elections. Joe Raedle/Getty Images