Only one question has mattered in Republican primaries across the country this year: Who was endorsed by former President Trump?
In some cases, if Trump endorsed an incumbent early enough, it would scare off any primary challengers. In other cases, he recruited and endorsed a challenger to an incumbent he didn’t like. In many cases, Trump would weigh in on a competitive primary — and essentially it would be over.
Trump’s win-loss record over this year hasn’t been perfect, but even in the races where his candidates lost, his presence was the biggest dynamic. This is a fact that Trump, who always wants to be the center of attention, has noted with pleasure.
That’s why it’s so notable that Trump appears to be passing up his last chance to make impactful endorsements before the New Hampshire primaries, which are less than a week away.
Trump is sitting out two contests, in particular, where he could tip the scales.
The biggest contest that Trump has watched from the sidelines is the US Senate contest. There is essentially a five-way contest for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan.
Hassan began this election cycle as the most vulnerable Senate Democrat. But last November her biggest threat, popular Republican Governor Chris Sununu decided against running. On the same day, former US senators Kelly Ayotte and Scott Brown also ruled it out.
A number of other candidates stepped up, muddling the race. Since the spring, the field has been frozen in place, with former Army brigadier general Don Bolduc holding a strong lead. But many, including Sununu, believe that Bolduc is too extreme and his campaign is too cash-strapped to be competitive with Hassan.
While Bolduc’s base and Trump’s base are very similar, one key person is not a Bolduc fan: Corey Lewandowski, a New Hampshire resident who is still in contact with Trump. Lewandowski could be the reason why Trump never got involved in the contest. Then again, Bolduc also ran for the Senate two years ago and Trump endorsed his primary opponent. So Trump might have some other reason.
Trump has said he is watching the race, and he does appear to know something about it. On a radio show last week, Trump was aware that Bolduc was ahead, but he was noncommittal about getting involved in the contest.
Trump has also turned aside requests to endorse other candidates in the race. Last week, Sununu’s office confirmed he called Trump to urge him to endorse state Senate President Chuck Morse, whom Sununu officially endorsed Thursday afternoon.
A recent University of New Hampshire poll found that if Trump endorsed someone in the race, it would have a mixed impact. Roughly 40 percent of people said it would give them a more favorable view of the endorsed candidate. Basically, the same percentage of people said it would give them a negative view.
But remember, it’s a five-way primary. And the votes of those with positive feelings about a Trump endorsement could go to one candidate, while the votes of those with negative feelings could be split up among the four other candidates.
In the state’s First Congressional District race, Trump’s endorsement could also have a big impact.
While there are four main candidates seeking the Republican nod to challenge Democrat Chris Pappas, the contest has largely come down to two former Trump administration staffers: Matt Mowers, a State Department appointee who was the 2020 Republican nominee for the seat, and Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s former assistant White House press secretary.
Trump endorsed Mowers two years ago but this time has stayed on the sidelines. Who is the true Trump favorite? No one knows.
While some Republicans might be squeamish about Trump endorsing someone in a swing state, his endorsement in either contest, if it came even a month ago, would have been a huge help to Republicans overall.
His endorsement would have been clarifying. His chosen candidate would have gotten a boost in media coverage and fundraising and the Trump base would have a signal as to what to do. Other candidates, meanwhile, might have dropped out, seeing no path to victory.
Instead, in both races, millions have been spent in the last few weeks, with numerous ads attacking each other.
In the end, both races will produce a Republican nominee next week, but the candidates will be broke and their names muddied before an eight-week sprint against well-funded Democratic incumbents.