Donald Trump, power broker: Primaries show he retains a degree of control over Republicans

While former President Donald Trump's track record in Tuesday's primaries wasn't perfect, his influence over races was clear.

Arizona Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake gives a thumbs-up to the crowd as former President Donald Trump speaks at a Save America rally on  July 22, 2022, in Prescott.
  • Donald Trump remains a big force in GOP politics, scoring primary successes in Michigan and Arizona
  • Trump also saw setbacks in Washington state
  • Trump candidates now head into fall elections in which Trump will be an issue
  • The Trump factor could decide control of the U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON – As they have throughout the year, Donald Trump and his allies spent another primary night demonstrating that they remain a powerful force in the Republican Party, with some limits.

As in primaries past, the Trump movement took a few losses Tuesday, but it also won nominations for many of their partisans and defeated other Republicans who have been critical of the former president.

A Trump candidate defeated Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., a House Republican who voted to impeach him over the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. Another Trumper defeated an Arizona legislative leader who testified before the special congressional committee investigating Jan. 6.

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Acolytes of Trump, who is pondering another run of his own in 2024, also won or led hard-fought gubernatorial, Senate and secretary of state primaries in Arizona, a pivotal state in congressional and presidential elections.

It was not a perfect set of primaries, however, as Trump appears to have failed to dislodge two House members from the state of Washington who also voted for his impeachment over Jan. 6.

"Trump had an OK night," said Henry Olsen, a polling analyst and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "Losing both Washington races hurts him, but he did very well in Arizona and beating Meijer was important for him."

Olsen also called Trump "'a' big power broker, not 'the' big one. His backing is important but clearly is not decisive."

'The forces he unleashed'

Trump, of course, took full credit for wins, while ignoring setbacks.

"Endorsements don’t get any more powerful or conclusive than the Endorsements of last night," he said in a Truth Social post.

Others noted that Trump candidates face tough races in the fall, especially in contests for control of the U.S. Senate – and the former president's influence could be a drag on the GOP in close contests.

Trump's numbers among Republicans are slipping somewhat, but political analyst Sarah Longwell said that misses the point.

"Trump the man can lose altitude," said Longwell, founder of an organization called the Republican Accountability Project. "But the forces he unleashed have overtaken the whole party. Trump can go away, but a GOP full of cranks and conspiracists will be his enduring legacy."

The impeachers  

The Tuesday set of primaries featured some of Trump's top political targets for the year: Three of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment right after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection designed to block President Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College.

Meijer, a first-term Republican from western Michigan, lost his reelection bid to challenger John Gibbs, a former official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration.

John Gibbs is running in Michigan against incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

In addition to Trump, Gibbs received help from a unique source: The Democrats.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee financed an ad that described Gibbs as too conservative and a tool of the former president, items that appealed to Trump-friendly voters in Meijer's district. Democrats across the country have lent tacit support for Trump-style candidates, believing they will be easier to beat in fall elections.

Trump, who vowed revenge on the 10 House Republican impeachers shortly after he left office, seems to have fallen short on two targets in Washington state, where mail-in votes are still being counted.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., is on the track to survive an open primary in Washington, defeating a host of candidates that included Trump-supported Loren Culp.

Under the Washington primary system, the top two finishers move on to the general election, regardless of party – and that's what is also happening to another Republican impeacher, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, whose list of opponents included the Trump-endorsed Joe Kent.

Herrera Beutler played a prominent role in the Jan. 6 impeachment of Trump. During the Senate trial, she released a statement saying that House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy reported Trump seemed unconcerned that a mob of his supporters had attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Trump's top 10 targets

Few if any of the 10 House Republicans who supported Trump's second impeachment will return to the Congress next year.

Four opted not to seek re-election: Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Fred Upton of Michigan, John Katko of New York, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Jan. 6 committee.

A Trump candidate defeated another impeachment voter, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina, during a primary in June.

Another impeacher, Rep. David Valadao of California, survived an open primary in a race where Trump did not endorse anyone. He faces a tough general election against the Democratic nominee.

The last Republican impeacher to face primary voters: Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a co-chair of the Jan. 6 commission and perhaps the most outspoken GOP critic of Trump's conduct in seeking to overturn the election.

Cheney is an underdog in an Aug. 16 Wyoming Republican primary against Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman.

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In the run-up to Tuesday's primary, Trump laid bare his hard feelings to the 10 House Republican impeachers.

"Knock out Impeachment Slime Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dan Newhouse, Peter Meijer, TODAY," Trump said in a Truth Social Post. "The rest, including the now disgraced RINO, Liz Cheney, are either gone, or soon will be. Five are already quitters because they were so far behind. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

Trump wins in Arizona

Trump's success in Arizona revolved around his ongoing protests of his election loss to Biden.

In the gubernatorial race, Trump backed former television newscaster Kari Lake, an outspoken election denier. Early Wednesday, Lake led Karrin Taylor Robson, a lawyer who had the backing of former Trump Vice President Mike Pence as well as Gov. Doug Ducey and other prominent Republicans in Arizona.

Former President Donald Trump and Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake Kari Lake at a Republican campaign rally on July 22, 2022, in Prescott Valley.

In a legislative race, a Trumper candidate easily defeated Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker who testified before the Jan. 6 congressional committee in June. Bowers criticized Trump for trying to pressure state officials into somehow overturning his loss to Biden in Arizona.

Trump also propelled Mark Finchem, another election denier who won the Republican nomination for secretary of state – an office that helps supervise the conduct of elections statewide. Public interest groups say Trump and his allies are trying to place proxies in election administration offices across the country, seeking the power to possibly steal future elections if necessary.

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The Tuesday primaries also featured Trump endorsee Blake Masters, who won nomination for the U.S. Senate. Masters, another election denier, faces a tough fall race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly – as do other Trump candidates across the country.

Trump's record is mixed so far

Throughout the year, Trump has scored a number of victories in congressional and legislative races, though he often picks front-runners who were likely to win anyway.

This week's slate of primaries included a bizarre scene in Missouri, where Trump endorsed only "Eric" in a Senate primary, but didn't specify whether he meant Attorney General Eric Schmitt and former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Schmitt, the favorite – and less Trumpy candidate – won handily.

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The former Republican president has also suffered setbacks.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger survived Trump's revenge tour, as did Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Trump candidates could not get over the top in gubernatorial primaries in Nebraska and Idaho.

Week after week, primary after primary, Trump has achieved a mixed record – and these are in Republican primaries.

Trump's support will be a major issue in the fall, and Democrats believe he will be a net negative for Republicans.

In Georgia, Trump-backed Herschel Walker is in a  tight race with incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock. Polls show the Trump-backed Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, trailing his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Masters and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance also face tough races.

Any of these contests could decide the fate of a Senate split 50-50 between the parties. Democrats control the chamber because of the tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.

"I think Trump gave the Democrats a gift backing Walker, Oz, Masters and Vance," said Ron Filipkowski, a Florida Democrat who tracks the former president and his political movement. "Those seats should all be R wins this cycle, but his choices could sink the ship."

Trump and the Republicans say issues like inflation, gas prices, and Biden's performance in office will power them to victories across the country, just as on Tuesday.

"Ran the entire board!" Trump said.