Donald Trump, Jake Ellzey
Carl P. Leubsdorf, Tribune News Service
The unexpected loser in Tuesday’s special Texas congressional election was Susan Wright, the widow of the North Texas suburban district’s former Republican representative. But the bigger loser may have been former President Donald Trump.
At a time when Trump is pressuring Republicans to follow his leadership, the defeat of the candidate he strongly backed in a friendly Texas district raises questions about his political clout outside the GOP, in the broader electorate.
Polls show the former president remains popular with fellow Republicans. But his numbers are far less favourable in the overall electorate, where a majority opposes his unproven claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” by widespread fraud and his contention Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
Trump, who carried the largely suburban 6th District last November with 51%, endorsed Wright in last May’s open primary, in which she led the 23-candidate field. His political committee ran television ads in her runoff against state Rep. Jake Ellzey, and Trump joined her for a tele-rally on the eve of Tuesday’s voting.
But the widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright reportedly ran a lacklustre campaign, and Ellzey polled 53% to win the seat he narrowly lost in a 2018 primary against Wright, who died earlier this year of COVID-19. Interestingly, Ellzey’s victory came a week after former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who served in Trump’s Cabinet, said the former president was “sold a bill of goods” by Wright supporters who unfairly maligned Ellzey.
A similar view was expressed by former Rep. Joe Barton, Wright’s predecessor. He also backed Ellzey, who likely got help from Democrats forced to choose between two Republicans.
The surprising result came at a time Republicans who favour a more forward-looking approach fear the former president’s continued focus on 2020 may damage the GOP’s chances of regaining the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.
And the former president’s political clout faces another test next Tuesday in a multicandidate GOP primary for an open suburban Ohio seat where he is backing a coal lobbyist against a state legislator supported by the district’s retiring Republican congressman.
Meanwhile, there is concern that, in seeking to influence GOP primaries for some crucial 2022 Senate races, Trump may not be backing the strongest general election contenders. Recent campaign finance reports showed several of his favourites raising less money than potential rivals.
In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, whom Trump endorsed for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Richard Burr, trailed former Gov. Pat McCrory, who has criticized Trump’s claims of 2020 fraud.
In Alabama, Rep. Mo Brooks, the Trump-endorsed candidate, was far out-raised by Katie Britt, the former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby. And in Ohio, a Cleveland car dealer outraised a trio of GOP hopefuls who are vying for Trump’s backing.
Meanwhile, a lengthy Associated Press story raised serious questions about the personal and business background of former football star Herschel Walker, whom Trump has encouraged to challenge freshman Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia.
Trump’s potential role may also create problems in another Senate race, the contest to succeed retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt. The former president has yet to choose among several pro-Trump hopefuls. But his son Donald Jr.’s partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, has signed on as national chair for former Gov. Eric Greitens, a controversial figure who resigned from office after a slew of scandals.
By contrast, relations remain poor between Trump and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been outspokenly critical of the former president’s role in causing the Jan. 6 insurrection that overran the Capitol as lawmakers were counting the electoral votes.
What happened Tuesday in Texas can only increase McConnell’s concern that support from Trump might sometimes be as much of a problem for the GOP in 2022 as his assistance.
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