The 2022 primary season officially ended Tuesday night, with voters in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware casting their final ballots.
There are a lot of good takeaways from the primary season that was, but in raw political terms, there’s really only one lesson that matters as we contemplate where we are as a country at this moment: Donald Trump still has a vice grip on the Republican Party.
In contested primary after contested primary, the Trumpiest candidate – and usually the one who the former President explicitly endorsed – won. And in many of those races, the Trump-ified candidate defeated an opponent who had backing from the more establishment wing of the party.
Tuesday’s results in New Hampshire are a good microcosm of this trend.
Don Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general, won the Senate primary over a field of candidates that included state Senate President Chuck Morse. Bolduc did not receive Trump’s endorsement, but he is an outspoken supporter of the former President’s election denialism and even floated the possibility of disbanding the FBI in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search last month. Morse was considered a more pragmatic candidate who had the endorsement of New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. (Sununu had also said that Bolduc was “not a serious candidate.”)
In GOP Senate primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and North Carolina, a similar scenario played out. Candidates clambered – at times desperately – for Trump’s approval and voting coalition, often by adopting his false claims about the 2020 election. In each of those cases, Trump’s chosen candidate won the nomination.
Governor’s races weren’t much different. In Arizona, Kari Lake, a high-profile election denier, rode a Trump endorsement – and an adoption of Trumpism writ large – to the GOP nomination. Ditto Doug Mastriano, who rose to prominence for his unswerving belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, in Pennsylvania. In Wisconsin, Tim Michels won the Republican primary with Trump’s backing, as did Tudor Dixon in Michigan. (Georgia was a notable exception here, with Gov. Brian Kemp fending off a Trump-backed primary challenger.)
Which is a remarkable thing. Why? Because Trump is a former president of the United States, someone who lost his bid for a second term. And not just that, but someone who was in office when Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities.
The story of Trump’s political life is marked by more defeats than victories. And yet, there is a credible case to be made that he is at least as powerful today – in terms of his influence over the GOP – as he was when he was in the White House.
What does that mean going forward? That Trump would start a 2024 Republican presidential nomination fight as a very clear favorite – even as it remains a very open question as to whether he can appeal to voters outside of the GOP base.