May 15th, 2022, 08:00 AM

GOP Senate Primaries Test Trump's Power in Party

By Daniel Lucas
Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Markus Spiske
Primaries for GOP Senate candidates are the first challenge for former President Trump's possible 2024 resurgence.

Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in the United States, it is considered by some a foregone conclusion that Republicans will be given power in both chambers of Congress and bring about the effective end of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda. With President Biden’s approval rating underwater with nearly every demographic, inflation rising while the economy shrinks, and Republicans with a historic lead in the generic ballot, this outlook likely surprises few.

While pundits debate whether this election cycle will constitute a ‘red wave’ or simply another pendulum swing away from the party currently in power, it is perhaps more interesting to consider what the GOP that takes power will look like. Most importantly, this election cycle poses the greatest test of the endorsement power of former President Trump to date.

And though general election day is quite a ways down the road in the US, primary season is very much upon us. The 2022 Senate midterms center around five true battleground states, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the only of these seats currently held by Republicans, both incumbents have decided not to pursue reelection). An additional four solid red states in which incumbent GOP senators are retiring also merit consideration.

A presidential endorsement is certainly one of the most desirable assets to a campaign at any stage. Trump has been more active with his endorsement than previous former presidents, President Obama is notably reluctant to endorse candidates in primaries focusing instead on uniting the party after a candidate has been chosen. In an attempt to advance his vision for the Republican party, continue to air his grievances about the 2020 presidential election, and further his political ambitions, Trump has issued endorsements in a number of GOP primaries.

Among the nine key Senate races for the future of the GOP, President Trump has issued an endorsement in five thus far with a retraction of an additional endorsement in the race to fill retiring Senator Richard Shelby’s seat in Alabama.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Oz Seyrek

OHIO – May 3

President Trump’s influence passed its first test on Tuesday night when Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance won the Republican Senate primary in Ohio. The primary was among the most contentious on the slate for the GOP and did not have a clear frontrunner throughout the race. Vance himself consistently lagged just behind the ever-changing lead pack until he was endorsed by President Trump in mid-April after early voting had begun.

Vance surged in the polls approaching election day after the endorsement and was joined on the campaign trail by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and conservative activists Donald Trump Jr. and Charlie Kirk.

Vance was seen early on as a long shot for the endorsement due to past comments from 2015 and 2016 in which he referred to himself as “a Never Trump guy” and called then-candidate Trump “reprehensible.” In his endorsement of Vance, President Trump stated that: “Like some others, J.D. Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now, and I have seen that in spades.”

Vance ultimately won the nomination with roughly 32% of the vote. Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and former state Senator and part-owner of the Cleveland Guardians, Matt Dolan.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Daniel Weiss


North Carolina pits former Governor Pat McCrory against Representative Ted Budd in a race to see who will face the presumptive Democratic nominee, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley. Both candidates' fundraising totals are nearly identical, although Budd has drawn substantially more from small-dollar donors (less than $200) and has a pledge from the Super PAC Club for Growth Action for $14 million in independent expenditures.

Rep. Budd was endorsed by President Trump in June of last year after having challenged the counting of electoral votes, although he has since stated in an interview that he believes that President Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. Polls of the race consistently show Rep. Budd as the 10-point favorite.

 Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Vidar Nordli-Mathisen


The Pennsylvania Senate primary marks arguable the most high-profile of the bunch for the Republican party. The field has now shrunk to a two-horse race for a chance to fill the seat of retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey. President Trump recently endorsed Dr. Memhet Öz against Gulf War veteran and former CEO of the Bridgewater Associates hedge fund, David McCormick. McCormick has received a bevy of endorsements from figures who served in the Trump administration including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Pennsylvania race is especially interesting for gauging any possible dwindling of Trump’s power within the party. President Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Öz comes after the candidate he previously endorsed, Army veteran and author Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign last November after losing a custody battle with his estranged wife over abuse allegations. Öz’s campaign has failed to pull away, and may have even fallen, in the polls following Trump’s endorsement in early April with most polling showing the two running close to even. Notably, however, substantially more Republican voters in Pennsylvania have unfavorable or strongly unfavorable views of Öz compared to McCormick.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Brad Huchteman

GEORGIA – May 24

The primary in Georgia will determine the challenger to face incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock who is seeking his first full term in the Senate after being elected in the 2021 special election runoff to complete the term of the late Senator John Isakson. Retired football star Herschel Walker was endorsed early by President Trump and has been polling consistently around the 60 percent mark in the primary. However, Georgia’s runoff system would open the door for state Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black if he can pull Walker below 50 percent. Anything could happen in a runoff on June 21 with super PAC already spending millions to drop Walker below the threshold with many concerned that allegations of domestic violence may sink his chances in November or at the very least limit his ability to challenge Sen. Warnock on similar allegations from his ex-wife.

A commanding win for Walker in the primary could do a lot for the future of Trump’s influence in a state he narrowly lost in 2020, where his claims of election fraud sank the chances of both Republicans in the 2021 Senate runoffs, and his endorsed primary challenger of incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, former Senator David Perdue, lags severely behind in the polls.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Clark Tibbs

ALABAMA – May 24

President Trump withdrew his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks in the primary in March and has yet to endorse a new candidate. The withdrawal of his endorsement came after Brooks's campaign stalled and he fell behind in fundraising and polling to both Army veteran Mike Durant and Katie Britt, the former chief of staff to retiring Senator Richard Shelby. But, the impetus for the withdrawal was a comment that Brooks, seen previously as a Trump loyalist, made encouraging Republican voters to move on from their concerns about the 2020 election and to focus on winning in 2022.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Clark Tibbs

NEVADA – June 14

The Republican primary in Nevada will determine the party’s challenger of incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Adam Laxalt the former Attorney General of Nevada and the Trump-endorsed candidate is the front runner in a race, but facing a growing challenge from retired US Army Captain Sam Brown who has managed to secure a fundraising total close to Laxalt and, critically, has drawn more than 3 times and much from small-dollar donors.

As the Nevada co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, Laxalt challenged roughly 3,000 votes in Nevada’s most populous and Democratic-leaning country, Clark County, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the election in the state by proving “criminal voter fraud.”


These primaries are must watch for those interested in gaining insight into the future of the Republican party and American politics. A dismal performance by Trump-endorsed candidates could dissuade the former president from his clear ambitions for a return to the White House in 2024. Nevertheless, President Trump's endorsements swept the primaries on Tuesday going "22-0" including the marquee Senate race in Ohio. If this holds, questions about the future of the party will be answered.  Until then, President Trump's power faces further, potentially more challenging, tests ahead.