It’s generally rare for past presidents to insert themselves in the party process after they’re out of office. But former President Donald Trump has decided to not take that path. With a combination of wanting to stay as party figurehead and spite, the former president has already endorsed numerous candidates for 2021 and 2022 – and his early record is already shaky.
Aside from an easy layup in Julia Letlow in March, Trump has already swung and missed on one this year. In the TX-06 special that saw a Republican vs. Republican runoff, Trump-endorsed candidate Susan Wright lost to fellow Republican Jake Ellzey by about six points – and that has set off a whole slew of hot takes. But has there been an overreaction to that election and the strength of the Trump endorsement?
An Early Test
Luckily, we have an early test of this theory. Tonight we have a GOP primary for the special election in Ohio’s 15th district. This race has a very divided field, even with a Trump-endorsed candidate. That candidate happens to be Mike Carey, an outsider businessman. Carey does have an independent fortune, but it is not necessarily enough to support a congressional campaign. That has allowed for others to take control of the fundraising side of this primary.
Ron Hood (former state representative backed by Rand Paul) and Jeff LaRe (another state representative backed by the previous Representative Steve Stivers), have led in fundraising so far. That does show a difference between the past with a Trump endorsement and one now. In 2018 and 2020, if you got a primary endorsement from Trump, your fundraising would skyrocket. This time, that hasn’t happened, for either Carey in OH-15 or Wright in TX-06. In fact, both Trump-endorsed candidates getting heavily outspent.
Carey is still the favorite, as the only public poll of the race showed him leading the large field. But that poll was from over a month ago and much has changed – especially the view of Trump’s endorsement in its importance in these primaries.
Why Has This Happened?
A decent amount of attention has gone to the struggles of Trump’s current endorsements in the way of fundraising. Not only did Susan Wright struggle, and not only is Carey struggling, but Ted Budd and Mo Brooks haven’t broken through in that regard, either. It’s possible that the major reason for this effect comes in Trump’s deplatforming on social media. Without his Twitter and Facebook presence, he can no longer plug his endorsements directly to fundraising sites. Especially with small dollar, irregular or limited voters, that means they aren’t getting the attention necessary to get their money.
Getting outspent isn’t everything, as time and time again candidates have been outspent and still won. But in special elections, that spending is still important. And Carey getting heavily outspent throughout the process by Hood and LaRe is a sign of trouble. Another sign is a late money dump for Carey from Trump-aligned PACs, meaning they do think he’s having issues right now.
We certainly do not know if any of this means anything until results are counted. Carey could still easily win, especially with the heavily divided field. But the apparent closeness of this primary shows that the former president has taken many large risks so far with his endorsements. Ones that, if Carey loses tonight, will begin to loosen, and not tighten, his grip on the Republican Party.