Loyalty trumps ideology in Trump's endorsements

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Former President Donald Trump is continuing to leave his imprint on the Republican Party with a series of endorsements well in advance of next year’s midterm elections, but it’s not all about ideology.

Trump has thrown his support behind Republicans across the spectrum on the party — provided they were loyal to him during his term in the White House.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida were both first elected during the Tea Party wave in 2010. But on some issues, at least, they have gone their separate ways since then. But they both earned Trump’s endorsement for reelection well before any primary challengers could emerge.

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To be sure, Rubio has recently experimented with “common good” economic proposals on the family and workers in line with Trumpian populism. Paul was a Trump ally on an “America First” foreign policy, emphasizing retrenchment in the Middle East.

But Trump didn’t mention Rubio’s work on paid family leave or tax credits for children in his endorsement, touting the two-term Florida senator’s efforts “fighting to cut taxes, supporting our Second Amendment, our Military and our Vets, a strong national defense, and all of the forgotten men and women of America.” The former president did invoke their partnership on Veterans Affairs reform as well as Cuban and Venezuelan issues.

Nor did Trump mention Paul’s support for ending “endless wars” in the Middle East, including the planned May 1 withdrawal from Afghanistan that could be delayed by President Joe Biden. The libertarian-leaning Kentuckian was instead praised for “stopping wasteful spending, defending our Second Amendment rights, and taking care of our Military and our Vets.”

What Trump did emphasize was the senators’ support for him in fights against the Democrats and foes inside their own party. Rubio, he said, “ruled that ‘President Trump was in no way involved with Russia,’ as he presided over the Senate Intelligence Committee on the FAKE Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax.” Trump said that Paul “fights against the Swamp in Washington, the Radical Left Liberals, and especially the destructive RINOS, of which there are far too many, in Congress.”

“DJT knows who his friends are — and aren’t,” a former Trump campaign official said.

Some Republicans thought Trump might prioritize candidates who share his skepticism of international free trade agreements, lightly regulated immigration, and foreign military adventures. But many of his picks so far, such as Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jerry Moran of Kansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, are fairly traditional Republicans.

Last year, Trump endorsed Tommy Tuberville for Senate in Alabama over former Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions agreed with Trump on immigration and the Iraq war, moving in a populist direction before the 2016 campaign and supplying the White House with key advisers such as Stephen Miller. But as attorney general, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, and Trump blamed him for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Tuberville easily won the primary and then the general election.

Every incumbent GOP senator Trump has backed voted to acquit him in the impeachment trial that followed the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, with Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas coming the closest of any Trump-endorsed senator to criticizing the 45th president’s conduct on that day. Trump has thrown his support behind several senators who declined to vote for his election challenges, however.

Trump has intervened in the race for Georgia secretary of state, where incumbent Republican Brad Raffensberger did not support his claims to have lost the state to Biden due to voter fraud. Trump has endorsed Rep. Jody Hice.

“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in a statement. “I have 100% confidence in Jody to fight for Free, Fair, and Secure Elections in Georgia, in line with our beloved U.S. Constitution. Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”

In the first of his bids to unseat pro-impeachment Republicans, Trump endorsed former White House aide Max Miller against Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. The former president also vowed to campaign against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Trump has yet to endorse anyone in that race.

Trump has so far mostly weighed in on behalf of candidates with a chance of winning. He endorsed his former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for governor of Arkansas. But her father, Mike Huckabee, held that post for multiple terms.

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Republicans recognize the power of Trump’s endorsements, though they are split on whether it will help the party retake Congress, where Democrats hold razor-thin majorities in both houses.

“Trump is still the most popular figure in the party, so his endorsement will help greatly in primaries,” said Republican strategist Mike DuHaime. “But in competitive general elections, Democrats will use the endorsements against any Republican who receives it. Democrats were wildly successful in 2018 and 2020, solely by being the not-Trump party. Democrats would love to make 2022 a referendum on Trump again instead of Biden.”