So far in the 2022 election cycle, 5 incumbent Republican Senators are retiring, refusing to run for re-election. Conservatives in the Club for Growth and other MAGA backing groups see a glorious opportunity to not only flip the Senate but drive the Republican Party hard to the right.
Most of those retiring Senators are establishment-types and many conservatives who have already indicated they want to replace them are lining up at the door of the one man whose blessing they all crave. Former President Donald Trump is still getting organized at his base in Mar-a-Largo, but his aides are already developing a formal endorsement procedure to follow when the stampede begins in earnest.
For the Senate primaries and beyond, a team of aides has set up a central destination for candidates seeking Trump’s support to send in their pitches through his political action committee, Save America PAC. Those requests for endorsements then get presented to Trump, a person familiar with the process said, and Trump decides which of the candidates he will meet as he weighs who to back in primaries.
“Trump is making the decisions … not any aides,” the person told the Washington Examiner. “Ultimately, it’s Donald Trump making the decision. It’s no staffer. It’s not Don Jr. It’s Trump. He’s driving the car here, even more so than when he was in the White House.”
The open Republican seats are in Ohio, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — all states with the exception of Pennsylvania Trump carried in 2020. For any candidate wanting to make a serious run in 2022, Trump’s endorsement is more than window dressing. A Trump endorsement would give the candidate instant credibility and a leg up in the primaries, which are all expected to be crowded with GOP hopefuls. It also means that they will be able to shake the GOP money tree nationwide.
But Trump’s role as a kingmaker is bound to be tested to the fullest. He will have to back candidates who cannot only win the primary, but also the general election. In Alabama and Missouri, that probably won’t be a problem. But what of North Carolina, where Trump eked out a victory by less than a percentage point? Or Pennsylvania where the former president was narrowly defeated?
It’s not that Trump-backed candidates can’t win in those states. It’s that a Trump endorsement would cost the GOP candidate some votes as well. Trump knows this well enough which is why he’s likely to make sure that his endorsement impacts the general election race as well as the primary.
“I’m giving endorsements, and I’m endorsing people that have been good for us and good for the Republican Party and that have voted our way,” Trump said on an episode of The Truth with Lisa Boothe podcast published Monday. “And if they’ve said something a little bit off-color with respect to me, I can handle that. If they’ve voted our way.”
However, that hasn’t stopped campaigns from trying to place anti-Trump quotes from rivals in front of the former president as they work to undermine others in their respective primary fields. Notoriously sensitive to critique, Trump has discarded aides and allies for even minor instances of perceived disloyalty in the past — and some campaigns looking to box out their opponents have hoped to exploit his sensitivity.
MAGA-loyalty may not count as heavily as an ability to win. If that strategy holds, Republicans will be in good shape going into the 2022 election.