Midterm Elections to Test Trump’s Influence on Republican Party

Ed Gross, a supporter of Republican Ohio Senate Candidate J.D. Vance, was recently quoted in an ABC News article as saying: “If Trump supports him, we will too.” The statement came following the former President’s endorsement of Vance at a campaign rally, where he called Vance “an America first warrior,” a title that many of the other candidates in the race were vying for. Vance was in high spirits after the endorsement, saying that it was “[his] race to lose.” The attitudes of voters like Ed Gross are the reason that Mr. Trump’s nomination has been so sought after in the run-up to the 2022 Midterm Elections, and the reason that Trump has been seen as a “kingmaker” in the Republican Party. 

The lingering effects and influences of Trumpism on states are exemplified by the formerly contentious state of Ohio, where Mr. Trump won in 2020 with an approximate 53-45 margin, and in 2016 with a 51-43 margin. Furthermore, when Mr. Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election, he became the first person to do so since 1960 without carrying the Buckeye State, seemingly solidifying the state as red. The trend is exhibited more dramatically on a local level. Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH), the likely winner of the Democratic primary for the upcoming Senate Race, once won his home county of Trumbull in an election with 74% of the vote. In 2020, he lost in the county while still winning the election. 

The 2022 Midterms will serve as a real test of Mr. Trump’s remaining influence on the Republican party, both for the American public and Mr. Trump himself, as according to New York Times correspondent Shane Goldmacher, the former President views his endorsement record as “a clear barometer of his strength in the party.” Mr. Trump’s concern for his endorsement record extends not only to consideration of who he might endorse but also to revocation of prior endorsements, as was the case with Alabama Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks, a Trump ally, a speaker at the January 6th insurrection, as well as a vote against certifying the 2020 election, would eventually lose his endorsement for a Senate race after falling behind in the polls and having lackluster fundraising results. Polls for the Alabama Republican primary conducted prior to Brooks losing the Trump endorsement showed that Mr. Brooks was polling at 17.6%, with candidate Mike Durant leading the race with 33.8% of the vote. In a statement released following the poll, the Durant campaign pointed to the candidate’s “America First message,” and sought to use Mike Durant’s “political outsider” nature and “real-world experience” to liken the candidate to Mr. Trump. 

Another election in which the Trump endorsement strength will be measured is the Georgia Governor race. Following Governor Kemp’s refusal to overturn election results in Georgia, it seems as though Trump has made it his mission to unseat him. According to Politico, Trump’s “Save America” PAC contributed $500,000 to another PAC that is looking to unseat Kemp, and the former President also recruited former Senator David Perdue to run in the race before “nudg[ing] out” a candidate that threatened Perdue’s success. Perdue, whose “suspicious” stock trading patterns around the time that Coronavirus began to break out led to criticism during his 2020 Senate campaign, went on to lose the Senate race in a runoff election. One poll for the Republican Primary in Georgia gives Kemp a 56-31 point advantage over Perdue.

It will be interesting to see whether Republican candidates clamoring for the Trump endorsement will prove to be fruitful for Republicans in several statewide elections. Litmus tests across the country will gauge the country’s perception of the former President and his continuing influence, which has been widely untested thus far, except in Texas, where, according to Goldmacher, Mr. Trump endorsed candidates that were “were widely expected to win anyway.” Returning to J.D. Vance, Tim Ryan, and the Ohio race, it is important to note that not all Republican voters will be looking to Trump’s endorsement as a guide. Some voters and Republican State party officials have pushed back against the endorsement, citing concerns about Vance’s past comments about the former President, wherein, according to the Associated Press, he referenced supporting Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election, as well as referring to Trump as an “idiot” in a tweet. 

Some Republican voters may stray from Trump’s endorsed candidate for reasons other than past lack of support for the former President. Seeking to show himself as an “economic Ohio Democrat,” Democratic candidate Tim Ryan’s goal is to reach “communities [that] feel left behind,” and follow Senator Sherrod Brown’s model for winning in the state, this being, according to Mr. Ryan, “[s]trong support from unions, strong support from workers, laser-like focus on economics, pocketbook issues and then growth.” By focusing on these issues, Mr. Ryan is seeking to reach Republican voters that have grown disillusioned with the party’s direction and obsession with the outcome of the 2020 election, subsequently turning them towards Democratic candidates. 

According to the Federal Election Commission’s campaign finance data, as of April 13th, Ryan has been extremely effective in fundraising, with more than $5 million cash on hand, far more than any other candidate in the race, Democrat or Republican. Ryan received donations from 20 current senators, as well as a $5,000 donation from Hillary Clinton’s PAC “Onward Together.” The same FEC data from April 13th showed that J.D. Vance, on the other hand, only had around $700,000 in cash on hand. However, Ryan’s use of funds has drawn widespread criticism for perpetuating extremely dangerous Sinophobic rhetoric. In using some of a “$3.3 million ad buy,”  Ryan recently ran an ad in which he states that it is “us versus China…Capitalism versus Communism” and that while “China’s winning…workers are losing.” Brad Jenkins, who is the President of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Victory Fund, compared Ryan’s strategy of shifting blame from American corporations to China to that of Donald Trump, creating a “foreign ‘bogeyman.’” In the same NBC News article, Jenkins went on to note that this type of dangerous rhetoric “has led to a historic surge in violence and discrimination against the Asian American community,” and that it is not only “bad policy, it’s racist.” Yet, Tim Ryan stood by the ad following the criticism, raising the question of whether while claiming to be following the Sherrod Brown model, Ryan is actually incorporating elements of Mr. Trump’s strategy that previously led to electoral success in the state.