The Power of Trump’s Endorsement

If ever there was a particular fact of the current political scene that the Left would love to ignore, it would be the success of President Trump’s election endorsements. You may have seen stories from the mainstream media hinting at some sort of “meltdown” within the Republican Party due to Trump, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever receives the president’s blessing is almost always guaranteed to get sick and tired of all the winning they will do.

Oh Hi, Ohio
The Democrats staked a lot of hope in flipping Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, in order to further advance their narrative of a “blue wave” building for the November midterms. Their champion in the race was Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, and they invested about as much time, money, and energy as you’d expect in an all-or-nothing contest for their political future.

Naturally, they lost. By the end of the night, Republican State Senator Troy Balderson held a lead of less than 1 percent, a difference of just under 1,700 votes. While that may not sound like much considering the seat holds a Republican voter registration advantage of seven points, a number of factors prove that this result is still a resounding victory for Trump and the GOP.

First, as Henry Olsen reported at American Greatness, the district saw a clear divide between the more urban, Democratic areas of Franklin and Delaware counties (two of the three counties that are home to the state’s capital of Columbus), and the more rural, Republican areas in the rest of the district.

O’Connor saw a huge boost as Franklin and Delaware counties ended up accounting for roughly 65 percent of the total vote share in the election, which was up from its previous vote share of 59 percent in the 2012 election. Conversely, the rural areas saw lower turnout than usual, possibly because the race will have to be repeated again in November as part of the general election.

Second, and more importantly, O’Connor ran on a much more moderate platform than most other Democratic candidates around the country. Much closer to a Conor Lamb than to an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, O’Connor had made appeals to the working-class voters who supported President Trump in 2016, while also refusing to attack the president. He even said initially that he would not support Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the leader of the House Democrats.

But even with increased Democratic turnout and dampened Republican turnout, and even though he ran as a moderate defying the ongoing wave of socialism sweeping over the Democratic Party, O’Connor still lost. It worked for Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, but not for O’Connor in Ohio.

In a rather hilarious display, enraged leftists on Twitter took time out from their rage at President Trump to channel their fury at Green Party nominee, Joe Manchik. But don’t be fooled by their claims that Manchik’s votes may have cost O’Connor the race; the margin by which Balderson won (1,680) was greater than Manchik’s total (1,165). So leftists, as always, have no one to blame but themselves.

There are plenty of theories as to why O’Connor lost, even with all of these factors working in his favor. But perhaps the simplest explanation, offered by Larry Schweikart, rings truest: President Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement and rally appearance did much to carry Balderson over the finish line.

A Tale of Two Rust Belt States
Over the course of one week, two very similar races played out in neighboring Rust Belt states which further demonstrates the value of Trump’s blessing. Two different pairs of candidates running for similar seats, with virtually indistinguishable platforms, saw one key element change the dynamics of their respective races.

In Michigan, the two Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate primary—veteran John James and businessman Sandy Pensler—both ran on pro-Trump platforms, emphasizing immigration, trade, and other issues central to Trump’s agenda. Polling throughout most of the lead-up to the primary gave Pensler the edge, until James received the president’s blessing just a few days before the primary. James went on to win the nomination by 10 points.

A week later in neighboring Wisconsin, two other Republicans battled it out in a similar way for the senate nomination, with State Senator Leah Vukmir facing off against veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson. Like their counterparts in Michigan, both candidates ran on the message that each was more loyal to the president and his agenda than his or her opponent, despite Vukmir’s unfortunate and frequent criticisms of then-candidate Trump back in 2016.

Polling going into the primary seemed to depict Nicholson as the frontrunner for the nomination. And although Nicholson, like James in Michigan, had a better chance of appealing to the Trump base and possibly of unseating incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin, Vukmir was backed by virtually the entirety of the state party’s establishment, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, former RNC chair Reince Priebus, and Rep. Sean Duffy. Nicholson was backed by former White House advisor Steve Bannon and the pro-Trump Great America PAC, among other more grassroots supporters.

In a race where Trump’s endorsement would have tipped the scales in favor of whichever lucky candidate he chose, however, the president remained unusually silent, declining to pick a side. By the end of primary night, Vukmir ended up with a clear lead over Nicholson to clinch the nomination. This despite general election polling consistently giving Nicholson a slightly better chance of beating Baldwin.

By and large, most factors lined up in both races: Two clear frontrunners for the nomination, both tying themselves to the president and his stances, running in states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 and are thus ripe for shifting even further red in November. The only difference was the president’s endorsement in one case, and a lack of an endorsement in the other.

What Could Have Been
Nowhere has this more evident than the unfortunate debacle of the Alabama special election last year. At the time, Judge Roy Moore appeared to be a shoe-in for the seat in a deep red state, but the Left played their cards just right. Their carefully-coordinated smear campaign proved to be enough to move the establishment away from Moore, and they all but completely disavowed the Republican nominee during a crucial time in the campaign.

Only towards the end of the campaign did President Trump throw Moore a lifeline. The president managed to convince sheepish party leaders to return to their posts and continue backing Moore’s candidacy. (Interestingly, despite Moore’s stated fidelity to Trump, Moore was not the politically savvy president’s choice in the primary.) Trump’s support for Moore in the general election may have been a case of too little, too late, as the prolonged period of Moore’s abandonment by the party leaders took its toll and allowed Democrat Doug Jones eke out a narrow win.

Perhaps it would have been possible for Moore to win had the president come to his aid sooner, or perhaps even almost immediately after the allegations dropped. And it’s worth noting that Democrats and their kept media used a similar strategy in 2012 to destroy the insurgent campaign of political outsider Herman Cain.

See the pattern here? The Left clearly realized that a sudden barrage of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct might sink any Republican at will and, with the help of the feckless party establishment, this strategy has proven to have an unfortunately high success rate. Although Trump himself survived a suspiciously similar attack strategy during the height of the 2016 election (and although most of the party leadership left his campaign during the struggle), only Trump was capable of surviving this kind of onslaught. The GOP has yet to learn from him.

It’s Trump’s Party Now
It would be one thing if Trump mostly endorsed incumbents, playing it safe like Obama did during his tenure. But Trump’s endorsements, true to his nature, have sometimes conflicted with the preferences of the establishment, and sometimes (as in the Roy Moore/Luther Strange primary) conflicted with the preferences of his base. In Florida’s gubernatorial race, Trump preferred U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis over state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. In Michigan, he gave his support to Attorney General Bill Schuette instead of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who was endorsed by outgoing Governor Rick Snyder. In the last two cases, Trump’s picks won resounding victories.

Trump’s blessing even successfully elevated primary challengers against incumbents in two recent upsets: Kris Kobach in his bid against Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer, and Katie Arrington in her challenge to Representative Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).

These are the kinds of results that only could be made possible by a president who is overwhelmingly popular with the party base. Disregarding a few radical outliers, cherry-picked and hyper-exaggerated by the media, the verdict is in: The GOP base loves Trump.

Out of 37 candidates Trump has endorsed in a primary since taking office, only two have lost: Luther Strange in Alabama and Foster Friess in Wyoming. In the former, Trump proved to be right when he warned that Moore might lose the general election. In the latter, the most likely factor was the last-minute nature of the president’s endorsement on the day of the primary, where Friess was facing off against a much better known statewide official, State Treasurer Mark Gordon.

But through all of this, from the establishment’s fumbling of Moore’s race to Kevin Nicholson’s primary loss, two things are clear: When President Trump is silent, the establishment wins. And when the politically clueless establishment wins, we always lose. It is all too obvious at this point that if the GOP really wants to keep winning, and maybe even make gains in November, party leadership would do well to fully embrace Trump now more than ever.

Photo Credit: Justin Merriman/Getty Images

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.