This week, Trump had slightly more political capital at risk by choosing sides in two key primary races. He backed GOP Rep. Alex Mooney over Rep. David McKinley in West Virginia’s 2nd District and Charles Herbster for governor in a messy contest in Nebraska.
There was one notable omission from Trump’s endorsement list in Nebraska: GOP Rep. Don Bacon. Trump is no fan of Bacon, who supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill and has said Trump bore some responsibility for Jan. 6.
Yet while Trump declined to back Bacon, he also decided against endorsing Bacon’s sole primary challenger. At a May 1 rally in Nebraska, Trump even took shots at Bacon, and asked the attendees to vote for the congressman’s cash-strapped GOP challenger, Steve Kuehl.
But in his words of encouragement to Kuehl, the former president may have inadvertently revealed why he never backed him. “Good luck, Steve, whoever the hell you are,” he said.
In other words, while Trump wanted Kuehl to win, he wasn’t willing to risk tarnishing his record by endorsing a candidate who seemed likely to lose. The former president was right about that: Bacon defeated Kuehl by a landslide margin.
As for Herbster, Trump took the loss. His candidate fell short against Jim Pillen in the governor’s race, finishing second in a field of four. Herbster’s failed campaign is Trump’s first loss since Susan Wright lost her Texas special election House race in July 2021.
Here is a look at the three Trump-endorsed candidates who won Tuesday.
Rep. Adrian Smith
Won with 76 percent of the vote.
Smith, who represents a huge, rural district that covers the western part of the state, voted to overturn 2020 electoral votes. In his endorsement, Trump commended Smith’s economic policies and gun rights advocacy.
West Virginia wins
Rep. Carol Miller
Won with 66 percent of the vote.
She voted to overturn 2020 electoral votes. In his endorsement, Trump mentioned Miller’s advocacy for coal miners and gun rights.
Won with 54 percent of the vote.
Mooney knocked off Rep. David McKinley in a battle of two incumbents thrown together by redistricting. He voted to overturn 2020 electoral votes, against creating the independent Jan. 6 commission and against enacting Biden’s infrastructure plan. That record marked him as far more aligned with Trump’s interests than McKinley.