Will Donald Trump’s endorsements in the 2022 Republican primaries be a double-edged sword for the party?
Based on the surprising results of this week’s special House runoff election in Texas, they could be.
The Republican-only election in a congressional district near Fort Worth was a runoff between Susan Wright, who was endorsed by Trump, and a freshman state representative named Jake Ellzey.
According to all the experts, Wright should have won fairly easily.
She was the widow of Rep. Don Wright, whose COVID-19 related death in February triggered the election.
She was a solid conservative in a conservative district.
And she had the backing of Donald Trump.
Trump did not appear in person for her, and local pols say his support was “half-hearted,” but the ex-president appeared in TV spots for her and his political action committee gave her money and bought ads attacking Ellzey.
When the votes were counted, however, Ellzey beat Wright with relative ease, 53 to 47 percent.
Ellzey is a former Navy combat pilot and a conservative who out-hustled Wright and was endorsed by former Texas governor Rick Perry and fellow combat veteran Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
After he won, Ellzey said his victory proved that the people of his district wanted a positive “Reagan Republican outlook for the future of our country.”
Evoking my father’s name always makes me smile.
But Ellzey’s win – or Wright’s loss – makes me wonder about how much Trump will help or hurt Republicans next fall when they hope to regain the House and Senate.
When Trump enthusiastically endorses one Republican candidate in a primary and gets his followers to come to the polls to defeat the others, he runs the danger of hurting the party’s chances in the general election.
To win in the fall – as we painfully learned last year -- Republicans have to do more than just get out their base.
They also have to capture the votes of independents and moderate Democrats.
When I look at the 2022 mid-terms, I think, “Yeah, as a candidate you might want Donald Trump’s unconditional and avid support in the Republican primary. But how are you going to win-over those independents and moderate Democrats in the fall?”
Those crucial voters may end up hating you – because of their hatred of Trump – more than they hate the way the Pelosi-Biden Democrats are wrecking the economy, blowing up the Southern border and mishandling the war against COVID.
And so Donald Trump becomes a double-edged sword—you want his endorsement for the Republican primary, but because of him in the general election you’re liable to lose independents, suburban women and moderate Democrats.
And to win you are going to need those voters – just as my father did in 1980.
He won not because Republicans showed up and voted for him, but because millions of independents and moderate Democrats did.
He needed them. The Republican Party always needs them because nationally, and in most swing states, it’s badly outnumbered.
Wright should have been elected. Most wives who run for their dead husband’s seats do so. She had the feel-sorry vote and the name recognition. Plus, she had the support of Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.
But Ellzey upset her.
It was a special election, so turnout was low, and it may have been a one-off election that means nothing for next fall.
Or it could be a wake-up call for the GOP’s leaders – a warning that Trump’s power within the Republican Party could hurt their big plans for next fall.
Wright’s surprise loss also should force the party’s grand poohbahs to ask themselves, what was it that Dan Crenshaw knew that they should also know?
Michael Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, is an author, speaker and president of the Reagan Legacy Foundation. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @reaganworld on Twitter