Take Tuesday night. Trump endorsed John James in Michigan’s Republican Senate primary, Bill Schuette in the Michigan governor’s race and Kris Kobach in the Kansas gubernatorial primary.
James, who had been considered an underdog prior to the Trump endorsement, won the right to face Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Schuette, the sitting attorney general, crushed the state’s lieutenant governor and several other challengers for the right to take on Democratic former state Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.
But Trump’s biggest coup appears to be his endorsement of Kobach, the controversial secretary of state who currently holds a lead of fewer than 200 votes over appointed Gov. Jeff Colyer. (The race has not yet been called by CNN.) Kobach, who led Trump’s short-lived commission to investigate electoral fraud, is a favorite of the state’s Trump conservatives but viewed very, very suspiciously by the party’s establishment. His victory, if it holds, would make the Kansas governor’s race competitive.
“As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I LOVE the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!”
That’s not exactly the right conclusion, based on Trump’s results. More accurately, the first line of that tweet would read: “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win primaries.“
What Tuesday (re)proved is that Trump has tremendous power to move Republican voters behind his preferred candidate. Without the Trump endorsement, there is no way James is the Senate nominee in Michigan. And Kobach almost certainly comes up short without Trump. (Schuette and Hawley likely win without Trump, although perhaps not by the same wide margins.)
The problem that takeover creates for Republicans less interested in adherence to Trump than in making Republican majorities as large as possible is that the candidates the President favors are not always the candidates best positioned to win in the fall.
Take Kobach. He’s a deeply controversial figure in Kansas and someone who lots and lots of dyed-in-the-wool Kansas Republicans just plain don’t trust or like. If he unseats Colyer for the Republican nomination, the Sunflower State governor’s race has at least the potential of becoming a Democratic pickup, due to unrest within the GOP directed toward Kobach. (Worth noting: Kansans elected and re-elected a Democratic governor in 2002 and 2006 in the form of Kathleen Sebelius.)
This is the Trump paradox for Republicans. Break with him and risk being on the wrong side of a primary loss. Stick with him and run the risk of being dragged down by his unpopularity with everyone outside of the Republican base.
Tuesday night affirmed that new reality for Republicans, and the near-impossibility of successfully navigating it.