J.D. Vance’s victory this week in Ohio’s Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat is due, in part, to former President Donald Trump’s late endorsement.
“Now this campaign, I really think, was a referendum on what kind of a Republican Party we want, and what kind of a country we want,” the “Hillbilly Elegy” author told supporters on Tuesday. Vance, at one time a vocal Trump critic, backtracked those sentiments to gain a mid-April endorsement from the former president.
The author and venture capitalist now will face Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan in November’s election to replace Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is not seeking another term.
Trump’s blessing – and Vance’s resulting primary win – shows the former president retains significant sway within the Republican party. But the primaries are just getting started; far more difficult races lie ahead that will test Trump’s enduring appeal.
“He still has some power,” Republican consultant Liz Mair told Spectrum News of the former president. “I don’t really think that we can fully measure the extent of that until we get through the entire primary season.”
Trump has endorsed in scores of races, many of which are not seen as competitive. He has also given his blessing to candidates in key contests for governor, against incumbents in Georgia and Idaho; U.S. Senate seats in Alaska, Pennsylvania and North Carolina; and in primaries against five House Republicans who voted for his impeachment after the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.
The next test of a Trump-endorsed candidate will come in less than two weeks in Pennsylvania, when the state holds its primary elections for seats in the U.S. Senate and House, as well as for governor and other statewide positions.
Trump has thrown his weight behind Dr. Mehmet Oz for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, writing in a mid-April statement: “I have known Dr. Oz for many years, as have many others, even if only through his very successful television show. He has lived with us through the screen and has always been popular, respected and smart.”
Oz’s top competitor is former Hedge Fund CEO David McCormick, who some reportedly expected to receive Trump’s endorsement.
A week after the Pennsylvania primaries, Georgia governor Brian Kemp will face off in the Republican primary against Trump’s pick David Perdue, a former U.S. Senator. Trump is angry Kemp didn’t try to reverse the Democrats’ victory in Georgia in the 2020 presidential race, even as multiple recounts verified Joe Biden’s win.
“Brian Kemp is a turncoat, a coward, and a complete and total disaster,” Trump said at a Georgia rally in late March. Despite Trump’s staunch opposition, Kemp is still ahead in many polls across the state.
Similar animosity is guiding Trump’s endorsement against Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, who is vice chair of the committee examining the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Nationwide, Trump’s endorsements seem to be chiefly guided by the 2020 election and his false belief he should still be president when numerous court cases, recounts and audits have concluded he lost.
As they seek his blessing – or use his approval – Republican candidates continue to repeat that disproved claim.
“The thing that is really of prime importance to him is his concept of loyalty,” said Mair, who has worked in numerous races and is a Trump critic. “And in his mind, loyalty means not saying that the other guy won fair and square.”
It’s not only the candidates endorsed by Trump buying into the conspiracy that the election was stolen from the former president. As of early this year, a number of polls showed many Americans still doubted the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.
But as the U.S. heads into the midterm election, other issues are likely to animate voters more – particularly, the economy and inflation, and perhaps increasingly, abortion, after a majority of justices voted to ban the procedure nationwide under a preliminary opinion leaked in early May.