Donald Trump claims that his endorsement is the most valuable commodity in Republican politics, but some Republican candidates appear willing to put that claim to the test.
While conservative activists gathered in Texas over the weekend, the state’s outgoing Republican Party chairman, Allen West, announced his intention to challenge incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott in a primary next year, despite Abbott’s coveted Trump endorsement.
Beyond Texas, the former president’s endorsement will be put to the test in North Carolina, Alabama, and other states with competitive Republican primaries in which he has chosen a candidate. Some delegates at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was held in a high-end Dallas hotel, said they respect Trump but that he will not necessarily determine their vote in elections.
Michael Ward, 24, a meter reader technician from Henderson County, believes Trump will have a large influence in elections, but that non-endorsed Republican candidates should not give up.
Trump used his clout to back primary challengers to Republicans who supported impeaching him over his supporters’ insurgency on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, or who otherwise opposed his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden. In a 90-minute speech to CPAC on Sunday, the former president discussed his 2022 campaign plans, predicting that Republicans will retake Congress as a result of his efforts.
Trump told adoring delegates in an address that touched on familiar themes, particularly his false claims about election fraud in 2020, that “our endorsement has become – and it’s really not just my endorsement, it’s your endorsement – has become the most powerful weapon in politics.”
According to political analysts, the 45th president remains popular among Republican primary voters. At this weekend’s CPAC, Trump easily defeated Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a 2024 presidential preference poll, winning by a margin of 70 percent to 21 percent. His endorsements will have varying effects on different races, and it’s unclear how strong the Trump brand will be when elections come around in the next year and a half.
Don Huffines, a former Texas state senator who is also running against Abbott in the primary next year, spoke at CPAC on Saturday, telling delegates that he is the “true Republican” in the race.
Trump endorsements have already roiled several Republican races, including Arkansas’ governor’s race. Following Trump’s endorsement of his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the GOP primary, another potential candidate, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, dropped out and decided to run for attorney general. (Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is still running for governor, but Trump’s endorsement cements Sanders’ position as the front-runner.)
In North Carolina, Trump’s decision to enter a Republican Senate primary did not, at least not yet, eliminate other major contenders.
Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd in the GOP primary for an open Senate seat in a speech to the state Republican convention on June 5. Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina, and former Gov. Pat McCrory are two other prominent candidates – are staying in the race.
Budd touted polling data indicating that Trump’s endorsement has aided him, but analysts said it’s too early to assess the ex-impact president’s on races that are months away.
Trump backed Congressman Mo Brooks, who has been a vocal supporter of false claims of “voter fraud” in the 2020 election. Brooks, who spoke at CPAC on Friday, is up against a well-funded opponent in Katie Boyd Britt, a former chief of staff for Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and a favorite among more conservative Republicans.
Olsen called the Alabama race a “excellent test” in the “battle for party control between Donald Trump and the old establishment.”
Republican professionals are watching to see who Trump endorses, if anyone, in the crowded Republican primaries in Ohio and Missouri. Both states are critical to the Republican Party’s hopes of regaining control of the U.S. Senate.
A special election to replace Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican who retired from Congress to join the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, will be held in Ohio next month as an early test of Trump’s political strength.
The former president backed Mike Carey, a longtime coal lobbyist who has never run for public office. The Republican primary on Aug. 3 will feature 11 candidates, including members of the state legislature.