Discover more from Tusk
Why Trump is feared and revered among GOP politicians
A look at Trump's power in the 2022 Republican primaries
Much has been written about Donald Trump’s influence in the 2022 Republican primary elections, although it’s easy to overstate and oversimplify his role. Some research I recently did with Rachel Blum and Mike Cowburn, however, allows us to pinpoint exactly how he was helpful to Republican primary candidates, as well as how he wasn’t. We presented this research at the Midwest Political Science Association recently (paper available here), but I want to summarize our main findings here.
We focused on all the Republican primaries for US Senate and Governor in 2022 in which there were at least two candidates. This comprises some 60 contests, with 362 candidates among them. We looked at the share of the vote these candidates received in their contest, using several factors (the four Ms) to predict the vote:
Media: The share of all appearances on Fox News each candidate had.
MAGA: An endorsement by Donald Trump.
Money: The share of all funds spent in a race by each candidate.
Mentions: The number of retweets candidates received on their Twitter posts.
We found the following:
1. Donald Trump’s endorsees enjoyed a huge vote bump. In contests where Trump endorsed, the endorsee got an average of 16 points more than the non-endorsed candidates, holding all the other variables constant.
2. The Trump endorsement enabled some candidates to overcome other deficits. A candidate in a contest where Trump didn’t endorse who spent about 70% of all the funds would do about as well as a Trump-endorsed candidate who spent about 30% of all the funds.
3. Trump endorsed strategically. That is, he picked candidates who were already pretty likely to win the primary. His endorsees had about 40 percent more Fox News appearances than the other candidates, as well as substantial leads in polling and spending, before he endorsed them.
4. His endorsement tended to help the endorsed candidates but only in specific ways. Endorsed candidates got an average of a 14-point boost in campaign spending and a 13-point boost in polling position relative to their opponents. These bumps did not fade with time, and helped those candidates substantially by the time of the election. The endorsement, however, did not seem to help improve candidates’ share of Fox News coverage or their Twitter mentions.
5. Women candidates did about four points better than male candidates – possibly because of self-selection. That is, a good deal of evidence suggests that women are less likely to run for office unless they have a lot of qualifications, such as funding, endorsements, experience, and more. Men, conversely, pretty much always think they’re qualified, and as a result there are many male candidates who just don’t do that well.
6. Election deniers – those who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election – did about four points worse than others. Republican voters either disagreed with them or thought those stances would hurt the party in the general election.
We try to be cautious in this paper and note that we haven’t established a causal relationship between Trump’s endorsement and these changes in the contests. It seems pretty likely that there’s a real relationship there, but Trump was hardly endorsing at random, which makes it hard to establish the causal relationship.
Also, to be clear, this analysis just focuses on Republican primary elections. We know from other research that Trump’s backing probably harmed Republican candidates in the general election last year. That’s clearly a concern for some Republican officeholders, but of course many represent states or districts that are safe for their party and face little general election threat.
But it’s pretty plain from this just why Trump is so feared and revered among Republican politicians. Even those who disagree with him or think he’s bad for the party or for the country do not want him angry at them. Imagine being a comfortable officeholder with substantial advantages in fundraising and name recognition, and all of a sudden Trump endorses a little-known opponent of yours because you made him mad, and that person gets a 16-point boost. That’s terrifying for a politician, and they’ll do pretty much anything to avoid such an outcome.