WOODSTOCK, Ga. — Donald Trump opened May by lifting a trailing Senate candidate in Ohio to the Republican nomination, seemingly cementing the former president’s kingmaker status before another possible White House run. He’s ending the month, however, stinging from a string of defeats that suggests a diminishing stature.
Trump faced a series of setbacks in Tuesday's primary elections as voters rejected his efforts to unseat two top targets for retribution: Georgia's Republican governor and secretary of state, both of whom had rebuffed Trump's extraordinary pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. But the magnitude of defeat in the governor's race — more than 50 percentage points — was especially stunning and raised questions about whether Republican voters are beginning to move on from Trump.
Nearly six years after the onetime reality television star launched what seemed to be an improbable campaign for the White House, the “Make America Great Again” movement Trump helmed isn't going anywhere. But voters are increasingly vocal in saying that the party's future is about more than Trump.
“I like Trump a lot, but Trump is in the past,” said David Butler of Woodstock, Ga., who voted for Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday and said Trump’s endorsements had “no” impact “whatsoever” on his thinking.
It was the same for Will Parbhoo, a 22-year-old dental assistant who also voted for Kemp.
“I’m not really a Trumper,” he said after voting. “I didn’t like him to begin with. With all the election stuff, I was like ‘Dude, move on.’”
One thing Parbhoo liked about the current governor? “Kemp is focused on Georgia,” he said.
Trump sought to play down the losses by his favored candidates, saying on his social media platform Wednesday that he had a "very big and successful evening of political Endorsements” and insisting some races “were not possible to win.”
Still, the pattern of high-profile defeats is hard to ignore.
After J.D. Vance vaulted from third to first place following Trump’s late-stage endorsement in the Ohio Senate primary, the dynamics took a turn. Trump’s pick in Nebraska’s primary for governor, Charles Herbster, lost his race after allegations surfaced that he had groped women.
In Idaho a week later, the governor beat a Trump-backed challenger. In North Carolina, voters rebuffed Trump’s plea to give a scandal-plagued congressman a second chance. And in Pennsylvania, a marquee Senate primary featuring Trump-endorsed celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz is so close that election officials on Wednesday triggered a statewide recount, dragging the outcome into June as the candidates fight in court.
But his biggest upset was in Georgia, a crucial swing state, where former senator David Perdue, whom Trump had lobbied to run and helped clear the field for, lost in a landslide to Kemp. The governor was among Trump’s top targets after he refused to overturn the results of the 2020 White House election in his state.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who defied Trump’s call to “find” the votes to change the outcome two years ago — a call that is now under investigation — also won his party’s nomination. Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King — all opposed by Trump — were also successful in their primaries.
In Alabama, Representative Mo Brooks, whose Senate endorsement Trump rescinded as he struggled to gain traction, made it to a runoff, having gained support after Trump dropped him.
Trump has endorsed in nearly 200 races, from governor to county commissioner, often inserting himself into contests that aren’t particularly competitive and helping bolster his compilation of wins. Some of his work has paid off. His early support helped football great Herschel Walker and Representative Ted Budd sail to their respective Senate primary nominations in Georgia and North Carolina. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary, easily won the GOP nomination for governor in Arkansas.
Some Republicans grouse that precious time and money have been wasted on an ego-driven Trump vengeance campaign, forcing incumbents to defend themselves in primaries rather than focus on general elections. They worry Trump has elevated some candidates who may prove unelectable in the November general election and has exacerbated divisions.
“There’s no question unnecessary fights with kind of the extremes of the party, of Trump’s grievance party, have made it more difficult for us to win in November,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who has been working to protect incumbent governors.
Cuellar has slight edge over Cisneros in Texas primary
Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas holds a razor-thin lead over his progressive challenger, immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros, in a primary runoff that has roiled House Democrats.
The race in Texas’s 28th Congressional District is among the most closely watched in the country, with the candidates and outside groups having spent a total of $12.5 million.
Cuellar was leading Cisneros by 175 votes as of Wednesday morning, with about 98 percent of precincts reporting. Cuellar has been boosted by support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while Cisneros has the backing of a new generation of progressive Democrats, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The Democratic primary election for the House in Texas’ 15th Congressional District was too close to call. Michelle Vallejo led Ruben Ramirez by 23 votes, or 0.2 percentage points, out of 12,063 ballots counted as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Also, the State Bar of Texas sued to punish state Attorney General Ken Paxton for his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud, raising a new legal danger for the Republican the day after he secured his party’s nomination for a third term over George P. Bush.
The state bar asked a Dallas-area court to impose unspecified discipline on the state’s top lawyer, alleging that Paxton’s petitioning of the US Supreme Court to block President Biden’s victory was “dishonest.”
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Wis. governor candidate calls for election board dissolution
MADISON, Wis. — The only Republican candidate running for governor in Wisconsin who had supported keeping the bipartisan state elections commission in place reversed his position Wednesday, calling for it to be dissolved hours before the panel was to vote on who would be its next chairman.
Construction company co-owner Tim Michels said in a statement that he now supports doing away with the commission after speaking with attendees at the Wisconsin Republican Party convention last weekend, including commissioner Bob Spindell. Spindell, who is running to be the next chair of the commission, was one of 10 Republicans who tried to cast Electoral College votes for former president Donald Trump in Wisconsin, even though he lost.
The next chair of the commission will hold the position for the lead up to the 2024 presidential election in battleground Wisconsin. The chair by state law approves the vote canvass following elections and certifies results. The chair also sets the agenda for the commission and can exert influence over how questions are framed, an important power on the board that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.