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Midterm races will signal Trump’s clout
Carl P. Leubsdorf

What will it take for Donald Trump to wear out his welcome with a significant portion of the Republican party?

It’s a question that political analysts have asked ever since Trump emerged as a GOP force and began committing the kinds of unforced errors that might sink a normal politician.

Trashing war hero John McCain didn’t do it. A tape with crude language about women didn’t do it. Declaring he won an election he clearly lost and making unproven allegations of fraud didn’t do it. Firing up a crowd that invaded the Capitol didn’t do it. And disclosures he took classified papers home to Florida hasn’t done it.

As Trump said at a 2016 Iowa campaign stop, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

But perhaps the one thing that could loosen Trump’s hold on the GOP would be if Republican voters signaled by their choices that his backing is no longer “the strongest endorsement in U.S. political history,” as he claimed recently.

The test will come in an array of 2022 primary contests, starting next month in Texas with a multi-candidate primary for state attorney general and at least one Dallas-area congressional race. They pit all-out Trump backers against Republicans less tied to the former president.

However, the year’s more important tests of Trump’s political clout will come later this year, in races for Georgia’s governor and Wyoming’s congressional seat.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp, a solid conservative narrowly elected four years ago, became a Trump target after certifying Joe Biden’s victory and rejecting the former president’s unproven fraud claims. Trump even said that Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who lost to Kemp and is running again, “might be better.”

Trump persuaded former Sen. David Perdue, whose January 2021 defeat was at least partly due to Trump’s obsession with the 2020 outcome, to challenge Kemp in the May 24 primary. Perdue now wants to re-examine the 2020 result.

In Wyoming, Trump seeks to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, perhaps his highest profile GOP congressional critic. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection and joined the Democrats’ investigating committee.

Her primary opponent Aug. 16 is state Rep. Harriet Hageman in a state Trump won with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Here are some other potential showdowns:

--Texas AG: Trump is backing embattled state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is fighting a securities fraud indictment, ethics allegations and three opponents. The former president spurned George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, George W.’s nephew and currently state land commissioner. Also running: Rep. Louie Gohmert, a strong Trump backer, and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Paxton needs over 50 percent in the March 1 primary to avoid a runoff.

--Texas 3rd District. Trump is a factor in this Dallas-area congressional race though he hasn’t made an endorsement. Three primary foes have assailed Rep. Van Taylor, the conservative Republican incumbent, for supporting a bipartisan panel to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and voting to accept the 2020 election results.

In a possible precursor, Trump-backed Susan Wright lost to another Republican, Jake Ellzey, in last May’s general election runoff for another Dallas-area congressional seat.

--Texas governor. Polls show Trump-supported Gov. Greg Abbott well ahead of two GOP primary foes.

--North Carolina Senate. Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd, but another pro-Trump conservative, Rep. Mark Walker, rejected GOP entreaties to quit the race. That could split the pro-Trump vote in the May 17 primary, helping former Gov. Pat McCrory, who has condemned the former president’s efforts to overturn the election.

--Alabama Senate. Trump is backing Rep. Mo Brooks, a strong congressional ally who addressed the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 march on the Capitol. Business groups support Katie Britt, a former top aide to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, in the May 24 primary. A third candidate, former POW Mike Durant, could become a factor.

--Georgia Secretary of State. Perhaps no state official has come more under Trump’s fire than Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, whom he unsuccessfully pressured to reverse the state’s result. Trump recruited Rep. Jody Hice, who voted to overturn the election, to challenge Raffensperger.

--SC 1st District. Trump endorsed former state Rep. Katie Arrington in the June 14 primary against freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, who criticized his role in the Jan. 6 uprising.

--Alaska Senate. Trump endorsed Kelly Tshibaka, a former state official, in the Aug. 16 primary against Sen. Lisa Murkowski. A persistent Trump critic, she voted to convict him for his Jan. 6 role.

In November, numerous general elections will show if Trump-backed candidates can attract enough non-GOP votes to defeat Democratic rivals. Many are in states that were crucial in 2020.

They include gubernatorial and secretary of state races in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, and Senate races in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia. In the latter, Trump recruited former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

The former president said he won’t decide about running in 2024 until after the November mid-terms. They may provide a better reading of his continuing clout within the GOP.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at