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Nate Jackson / August 2, 2021

Trump Still Looms Large

The former president’s pick lost a special Texas House race, but he still has cash and influence.

The 2024 presidential election is still eons away in terms of all that can happen politically. Heck, in that sense, the 2022 midterms aren’t exactly right around the corner. Yet every once in a while, there’s a significant marker that maybe points to the direction things are going.

One such marker seems to have happened in Texas last week, where Republican Texas state Representative Jake Ellzey won a special election to replace the late Ron Wright, who died of COVID-19 in February. One special House election is rarely a major bellwether, but this one holds some intrigue.

Notably, Ellzey defeated Susan Wright, the widow of the late congressman. That happened despite the fact that Wright was endorsed by Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, and newly installed number three House Republican Elise Stefanik. She also had the support of the Club for Growth, Trump’s Make America Great Action PAC, and House Freedom Action. Moreover, Wright lost despite leading by double digits in multiple polls.

We’re sure it was a particularly emotional loss for Wright, and we certainly offer our condolences.

From a political standpoint, the Beltway’s prognosticators went into overdrive to figure out whether this means Trump’s influence in the party is waning. “This may have been Trump’s worst week since leaving the White House,” declared Republican strategist and Trump critic Doug Heye.

Memo to the establishment: Trump isn’t going anywhere. According to Federal Election Committee filings over the weekend, Trump has $102 million in the bank. His various political action committees reported another $82 million in income through June 30 — in an off year.

Memo to Trump: You can use all that money and influence for GOP victories, or for personal grudge matches.

The former president gave indications that he’s going to struggle with that choice. He understandably vented about the infrastructure deal in the Senate, but he unfairly blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose,” Trump complained. “He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud and he doesn’t fight.” He added, “RINOs are ruining America, right alongside Communist Democrats.”

McConnell doesn’t fight? A dozen years ago, we would have agreed. But McConnell displayed incredible backbone in the fight over the judiciary — backbone that won Trump the 2016 election and saw the confirmation of three Supreme Court justices and hundreds of conservative judges in just four years. You’d think Trump would show a little gratitude. Instead, he’s acting as if he’s some sort of small-government puritan, griping about infrastructure spending that he himself has touted.

And the reason McConnell is the minority leader is not McConnell but Trump and his divisive election recriminations in the disastrous Georgia runoffs the day before the Capitol riot.

On the other hand, Trump showed that he can be a team player — and we don’t doubt a very effective one. Trump said he “can’t imagine a more important time to elect good Republicans to the House and Senate.” He added, “Commonsense conservatives were never more badly needed.”

But will he put his money where his mouth is? So far, no. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Yet even as the former president has handed out more than two dozen endorsements for state, local and congressional candidates, his committees haven’t followed them up with campaign contributions.”

That’s not going to cut it in 2022. Furthermore, Trump’s flirtation with another presidential run in 2024 is handcuffing other Republican candidates who would, in our humble opinion, be stronger among the general electorate, who showed they’d clearly had enough of Trump’s personality and chaos.

As has been the case since Trump burst into the GOP primary in 2015, threading the needle among feuding Republicans is going to be as important for him as it is for anyone who talks about him.

Update 8/4: It’s worth noting that Trump-backed Mike Carey won a special House race Tuesday in a crowded field. As we said, Trump still holds a lot of sway.

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