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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Trump’s Future May Also Be on November Ballot, But Not in Dem Midterm Strategy

John Hudak makes the case that “November midterms are Trump’s make-or-break moment” at Brookings:

Donald Trump’s record of success in primary endorsements has been mixed, as my colleagues have written extensively about in previous posts. He has padded that record, in part, by offering last minute endorsements—or in the case of the Missouri Senate race with a vague endorsement. Some of Mr. Trump’s endorsements went to candidates who were incumbents or were widely expected to win. In other races such as for governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland and for Senate in Connecticut, Ohio and Arizona, those endorsements were important to the outcome.

Trump’s endorsement strategy is bold—to an extent never before in modern politics he has put his reputation on the line in the midterm elections. But winning primaries is only half the battle. While any politician or former elected official likes to tout a win-loss record (when it is flattering) of their endorsements, the former president faces a second and bigger battle in the general election. In some cases, his endorsements were seen as supporting less electable candidates [i.e., Doug Mastriano (PA-GOV); J.D. Vance (OH-SEN); Herschel Walker (GA-SEN); Mehmet Oz (PA-SEN); Josh Gibbs (MI-03); etc.)…Mr. Trump’s endorsement of candidates in deep red states or districts will surely pad his win-loss record. However, if Senate candidates like Walker, Oz, Vance, or Blake Masters (AZ) ultimately lose in numbers that maintains Democrats’ Senate majority, Mr. Trump will be widely blamed.

…Finally, in governor races, where Republicans could have been or should be competitive in places like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Trump’s endorsements could backfire if Democrats net a pickup in those races. The potential for Republicans to sweep Democrats across the board exists, but it may not ultimately happen, and that possibility is starting to worry Republican strategists. If Democrats hold off historic losses, and especially if they are able to maintain or even expand control in the U.S. Senate, the GOP blame game will begin.

Hudak, deputy director of Brookings Center for Effective Public Management and senior fellow, Governance Studies, adds that “Of course, surprising Democratic strength this November would not be entirely Mr. Trump’s fault. A wildly unpopular Supreme Court decision around abortion (although resultant from Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominations), a string of legislative victories, slowing inflation, and sustained job creation all work to bolster Democratic chances. But it’s a midterm and Republicans are supposed to win. If Republicans don’t win, questions about and skepticism of Mr. Trump’s political power and influence will be centerstage in GOP discussions.” Further,

If election night in November proves underwhelming for Republicans, Mr. Trump’s GOP rivals will pounce. Potential 2024 candidates like Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Liz Cheney, Nikki Haley, Larry Hogan, Greg Abbott, and Mike Pompeo are looking for any opportunity to paint the former president as weak, politically ineffective, and as yesterday’s news….If Pence-backed candidates are seen as more electable (they likely were) and Trump-backed candidates lose the general, it will be marketed as other party elders being better equipped to pick general election winners than the former president….If Trump-backed candidates push the GOP over the finish line in terms of control of the Senate and an expansion of Republican control of statewide offices, it will be hard for other Republicans to challenge the former president in his path to the nomination in 2024.

Hudak, concludes, “Donald Trump is not on any ballot in 2022, but his political future is….ultimately, the midterms will likely either make Donald Trump an also-ran or the commanding force in party politics for years to come.”

Sure, the midterm elections could make or break Trump’s future. However, if Trump’s endorsements break more or less even, it might be enough to keep his presidential aspirations annoyingly afloat for a couple of years — provided his legal problems don’t finish him off as a presidential candidate. Meanwhile, Democrats can use Trump’s endorsements against Republican candidates in midterm races where it helps and ignore it when it doesn’t. In any case, Democratic Senate, House, state and local campaign strategies should have focus and goals that don’t depend on what Trump does.

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