UPDATE (April 19, 10:05 a.m.): Late Monday, former President Trump announced two more endorsements in a pair of South Carolina House races. With these endorsements, Trump has endorsed 103 candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state governorships so far.
Read more from Jean and Nathaniel on Trump’s 2022 endorsement strategy.
Normally, a one-term presidency would be a sign for a political party to move away, regroup and pivot away from a losing brand. But Donald Trump is not a conventional former president. With the 2022 primary season beginning to pick up in earnest — not counting Texas’s runoff elections, 12 more states will be holding their primaries in May — Trump’s continued influence in the GOP is again being put to the test.
It’s tricky for Trump, though, as he must thread the needle of maintaining his hold on the party while at the same associating his name with winning — in other words, not reminding voters of his 2020 election loss. He’s largely done this by backing some candidates who seem sure bets to win their primaries as well as supporting his fiercest allies, those who advocate the Big Lie (the idea that he actually won the 2020 election). We last looked at Trump’s endorsements back in December, and while many parts of his strategy appear to be the same — namely, he’s still endorsing a lot of candidates — there are signs that Trump is being more selective in who he backs.
Trump’s endorsements show no sign of slowing down
When we took a look at Trump’s endorsements last year, we observed he was endorsing more candidates early on in the cycle. By Dec. 7, 2021, he had endorsed 46 candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state governorships1 — more than three times as many as he had endorsed at that point in the 2020 election cycle. It wouldn’t have been surprising, then, to see the former president take an endorsement breather — but that’s not what happened.
Instead, Trump has continued to endorse at a furious pace. As of April 18, he has endorsed 103 Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates2 whereas by April 18, 2020, he had endorsed only 42 candidates for those offices.
After a brief plateau in January — Trump endorsed only six Senate, House or gubernatorial candidates — Trump really ramped up his endorsements in the new year. He endorsed more such candidates in February (20) than he has in any other month this cycle. Then he endorsed nine candidates in March, and 14 more in the first 18 days of April. In total, he’s now made almost as many endorsements for Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates in the first few months of 2022 (49) than he did in all of 2021 (55).3
But Trump is making safer endorsements
Trump may not be slowing down in his endorsements, but we have observed a change in strategy. Back in December, we noted that almost half of the endorsements Trump had made to that point carried political risk: 43 percent (20 out of 46) of his Senate, House and governor endorsements4 were of non-incumbents in contested Republican primaries, meaning they weren’t necessarily locks to win. But since then, only 22 percent (13 out of 59) of Trump’s Senate, House and governor endorsements have been of non-incumbents in contested Republican primaries.
In other words, Trump has been loading up on “safe” endorsements, like on April 6 when he endorsed seven incumbent Republican representatives, none of whom are especially likely to lose their primaries. (Incumbents rarely lose in primaries.)
In many ways, this was a return to form for Trump, who endorsed only 25 non-incumbents in contested Senate, House and governor primaries in the 2020 cycle — 22 percent of his total endorsements for those offices. Perhaps he realized that, after endorsing so many candidates who may very well lose, he needed to bet on some safer horses in order to maintain the appearance that he is still a kingmaker in Republican primaries. After all, we know he still cares about that perception because he boasted just last month about his 100 percent win rate in the Texas primary (if you ignore that five of his endorsees were forced into runoffs).
But as we’ve written in the past, Trump’s high win rate has always been artificially inflated by easy wins, and Texas was no exception: Seven of the 19 Republicans Trump endorsed for House or governor in the Lone Star State were running unopposed.
In fact, Trump may even be selectively changing his endorsements after making them to keep his win rate up and distance himself from candidates he’s afraid might lose. Take Rep. Mo Brooks, who in April 2021 earned Trump’s endorsement for U.S. Senate in Alabama but has been languishing at a distant third in the polls. Reports began to emerge that Trump was unhappy with Brooks’s performance, and on March 23, he officially rescinded his endorsement.
Trump is endorsing more Big Lie supporters
Trump’s abandonment of Brooks is interesting, as Trump has largely been endorsing Republicans who agree with his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. On that front, Brooks is one of the Big Lie’s biggest supporters. Brooks was the first member of Congress who said he would challenge the election results, and he also spoke at the Jan. 6 rally before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But what it means to support the Big Lie is an ever-evolving litmus test, and Brooks seems to have made a grievous miscalculation in telling his supporters to put Trump’s 2020 election loss behind them at an August 2021 rally. Trump cited this as the reason for why he was no longer supporting Brooks, though of course it’s impossible to disentangle the role Brooks’s sagging poll numbers played in Trump’s decision, as we know Trump loves a winner.
But Brooks’s fall from grace aside, a belief in the Big Lie has been perhaps the most consistent part of Trump’s endorsements since the 2020 election. Of the 111 candidates he’s endorsed for governor, federal office, attorney general or secretary of state,5 at least 80 — more than 70 percent — believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent, according to our research. (To make our determinations, we checked whether Trump’s endorsees had, if members of Congress, voted against certifying the election results, and whether they had taken a public stance on the issue via news reports and their social media pages. Candidates who more generally raised questions about voter fraud or wanted to increase scrutiny of voting practices weren’t included in our totals.)
|Candidate▲▼||State▲▼||Office▲▼||Big Lie supporter?▲▼|
|Mark Finchem||Arizona||Secretary of State||✓|
|Tim Griffin||Arkansas||Attorney General|
|Sarah Huckabee Sanders||Arkansas||Governor|
|Ashley Moody||Florida||Attorney General||✓|
|Anna Paulina Luna||Florida||Representative|
|John Gordon||Georgia||Attorney General||✓|
|Marjorie Taylor Greene||Georgia||Representative||✓|
|Jody Hice||Georgia||Secretary of State||✓|
|Matthew DePerno||Michigan||Attorney General||✓|
|Kristina Karamo||Michigan||Secretary of State||✓|
|Claudia Tenney||New York||Representative|
|Elise Stefanik||New York||Representative||✓|
|Bo Hines||North Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Greg Murphy||North Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Virginia Foxx||North Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Madison Cawthorn||North Carolina||Representative|
|Ted Budd||North Carolina||Senate||✓|
|John Hoeven||North Dakota||Senate|
|Madison Gesiotto Gilbert||Ohio||Representative|
|Henry McMaster||South Carolina||Governor||✓|
|Katie Arrington||South Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Russell Fry||South Carolina||Representative||✓|
|William Timmons||South Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Ralph Norman||South Carolina||Representative||✓|
|Tim Scott||South Carolina||Senate|
|Kristi Noem||South Dakota||Governor||✓|
|Ken Paxton||Texas||Attorney General||✓|
|Beth Van Duyne||Texas||Representative||✓|
|Monica De La Cruz||Texas||Representative||✓|
|Alex Mooney||West Virginia||Representative||✓|
|Carol Miller||West Virginia||Representative||✓|
|Derrick Van Orden||Wisconsin||Representative||✓|
Support for the Big Lie is particularly prominent in the candidates Trump has endorsed for the House, as we identified that 81 percent (58 out of 72) of the candidates Trump has backed believe in the Big Lie.6 In Trump’s endorsements for Senate and governors’ races, though, support for the Big Lie isn’t quite as pronounced. Just six out of the 17 candidates Trump has endorsed for the Senate support the Big Lie, and nine out of 14 gubernatorial candidates do.
But as we wrote in December, what’s really notable about Trump’s endorsements this cycle is he’s also taking the unusual step of endorsing election officials — most notably, election officials who buy into Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him. So far, Trump has endorsed three secretary of state candidates (all Big Lie believers) in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, states that flipped from Trump in 2016 to President Biden in 2020, and where all three incumbent secretaries of state certified their state’s results.
Trump has taken a similar approach in attorney general races, where four out of five of his endorsed candidates believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent. His two incumbent endorsees, Ken Paxton in Texas and Ashley Moody in Florida, both joined a failed lawsuit that tried to overturn the election results, and two non-incumbent endorsees also hail from states Trump narrowly lost in 2020, Georgia and Michigan. (The fifth endorsee, Tim Griffin, an attorney general candidate in Arkansas, hasn’t taken a stance on the 2020 election publicly.)
These endorsements are notable, not only because these races don’t usually attract national attention, but because they also most clearly break with Trump’s pattern of choosing safer, incumbent candidates. Of the eight candidates Trump has endorsed so far for secretary of state or attorney general, six are non-incumbents.
Of course, it’s still an open question at this point about how consequential Trump’s endorsements will be. Most Republicans still have a favorable view of Trump, but there are signs his popularity is slipping. Moreover, we’ve already gotten some mixed signals with his endorsement track record. In the three special elections Trump weighed in on last year, his preferred candidate lost in Texas, but won in Ohio and Louisiana. His endorsement record could be further complicated this year, too, if he continues to rescind endorsements as he did with Brooks or endorse competing candidates like he did with state Rep. Steve Carra and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga in Michigan.
It’s too early at this point to conclude anything about Trump’s endorsement track record, but as we keep moving through the primary season, we’ll be keeping a close eye on what Trump’s endorsements mean for the future of the Republican Party.
CORRECTION (April 19, 2022, 5:35 p.m.): An earlier version of the table in this article mistakenly listed Kristi Noem as the governor of North Dakota. Noem is the governor of South Dakota.
CORRECTION (May 18, 1:14 p.m.): The first chart in this story has been updated to reflect the correct year in which Trump endorsed Rep. Ted Budd. It was June 2021, not June 2020.