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‘The 800-pound gorilla’: Trump boosts endorsement record with Arizona and Michigan wins

Since leaving office last year, 188 candidates backed by the former president have won primaries, 14 have lost and two dropped out or were disqualified before Election Day.
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Donald Trump's image as GOP kingmaker was tarnished by several high-profile election losses earlier this year, but Tuesday's primaries in states like Arizona put the Republican shine back on the former president.

In what’s shaping up to be a clean sweep in Arizona, 11 of Trump’s 12 endorsed candidates won in primaries for U.S. Senate, secretary of state, Congress, state House and state Senate. (Trump’s pick for governor leads in a race that remains too close to call in the battleground state.)

All of those candidates have embraced Trump's false claims of a stolen 2020 election.

The Arizona wins were a sharp contrast to Georgia’s primaries in May, when most of Trump’s major candidates lost in the swing state as they tried to unseat a governor and secretary of state who had refused to aid in Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

While Arizona illustrated the strength of Trump's influence in the GOP, it wasn’t the only state primary to showcase his power on Tuesday. His preferred candidates dominated in Missouri and Kansas, as well as Michigan, where one of the 10 members of Congress who voted for his second impeachment was defeated by a Trump-backed challenger.

“Trump is still the 800-pound gorilla,” said Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman and GOP consultant. “He has significant influence.”

With just a handful of state primaries left, 188 Trump-endorsed candidates have won primaries during his post presidency, 14 have lost, two dropped out or were disqualified before their races, 26 await their primaries and two are in races that have yet to be called, according to his staff and statistics compiled by Ballotpedia.

Trump padded his endorsement stats by backing many incumbents with minimal opposition, but his obsessive involvement in all of the races and the degree to which candidates have prostrated themselves for his support — as well as the difference it has made in some races like Ohio, Arizona and Michigan — makes him an outlier among former presidents.

Trump’s record also shows that, while he may be damaged by the multiple investigations focused on him, the former president appears most likely at this time to secure the GOP nominee for president should he run again in 2024.

But Trump’s endorsement isn’t so magical that it can elevate an unelectable candidate, nor are Republicans clamoring for Trump to run again; polls show him getting about half the hypothetical vote in a crowded Republican presidential primary, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a distant second carrying about half the amount of support as Trump.

Arizona Republican consultant Sean Noble said it’s undeniable that “we’re in uncharted territory with a former president having this level of control over the party. It’s more of his party than anyone else. His endorsement obviously matters more than anyone else’s.”

But, he said, Republicans worry that Trump might decide to make his announcement for re-election before the midterms, making himself more of a campaign issue that could turn off independent and swing voters who are crucial to winning elections in swing states.

Democrats agree that Trump’s influence is unique, but they say he and his endorsed candidates are outside the mainstream for states like Arizona and Michigan.

“The Trump-endorsed slate in Arizona is by far the most extreme we’ve seen, and that word is far too tame,” said D.J. Quinlan, a top Arizona Democratic consultant, referring to gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Senate candidate Blake Masters and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, a fervent election denier like Lake.

Quinlan said, however, that Democrats “face headwinds” and they should not underestimate the energy that Republicans, especially Lake and Trump, can muster.

In another swing swing-state the former president lost in 2020, Michigan, Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon won her primary Tuesday but began backing off her claims that the election was stolen. (Trump’s pick for secretary of state and attorney general in Michigan are also election deniers, but they secured their party nominations at a GOP convention instead of Tuesday's primary.)

Still, Trump's record on Tuesday was not without some blemishes. In Washington, GOP Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, who both voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot, are leading their respective Trump-backed challengers.

Of the 10 pro-impeachment Republicans, six decided not to run for office again, and only one has so far made it through a primary, California Rep. David Valadao. As with Newhouse and Beutler’s races, Valadao’s race was a so-called “jungle primary” where every candidate from every party runs, as opposed to a partisan primary.

In Michigan, Rep. Peter Meijer paid for his impeachment vote by losing his primary on Tuesday to Trump-endorsed John Gibbs.

“It tells you there’s not a big appetite among Republican voters to support Republicans who side against Trump,” said Andy Surabian, Republican strategist who’s a former Trump White House official.

“I would describe what happened in Arizona and Michigan as the anti-Georgia. Last night proves that the media narrative out of Georgia, that Trump was losing his influence, was completely wrong,” he said. “There were local factors at play in Georgia — the candidate quality more than anything. The primary results since then have all clearly shown the unique power of Trump and his endorsement.”

Democrats, however, don't see any staying power with those endorsements.

Pamela Pugh, a Democrat who serves on the Michigan State Board of Education, echoed the views of other Democrats in swing states by predicting that Trump’s involvement and the extremist nature of some of his picks will hurt Republicans in November.

“Democrats are ready for combat,” Pugh said.