President Trump sat down with reporters from the Daily Caller on Tuesday for a brief interview. Trump was happy to take the time, he said several times during the exchange, because he was pleased with how the outlet had treated him during his presidency.
On one subject in particular, the Daily Caller’s treatment of Trump during the interview was also fairly hands-off. The reporters led with a question about Trump’s primary endorsement success, something that we’ve noted ourselves. But Trump’s representation of that success was — true to form — substantially more complimentary to himself than was warranted.
DAILY CALLER: “So you have been batting almost 1.000 on primary endorsements. You have to be pretty proud of that.”
TRUMP: “And the one I didn’t get was Friess, I was asked to do that, by my son Don, and I did it but I did it — I was asked the morning of — and by the time I did it I guess 70 percent, almost 70 percent of the vote was already cast. So, I don’t consider that to be, maybe I’ll take a quarter of a loss on that one. But I think it’s 48 and a quarter, it’s 48-1 which is pretty good, right? Pretty good.”
Well, actually, he didn’t get two. He also endorsed Luther Strange in Alabama’s Senate special election in the fall. Strange lost to Roy Moore, whom Trump then endorsed — shortly before Moore imploded. He also appears to want to take credit for the U.S. Senate primary in West Virginia, in which he endorsed two candidates, only one of whom won.
In Democrat-vs.-Republican contests where Trump has endorsed, he has been much less successful. Moore lost, as did Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania and Ed Gillespie in Virginia. Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) won, as did Troy Balderson, who will be sworn in to serve Ohio’s 12th District on Wednesday. More on him below.
But back to primaries and the loss by Republican megadonor Foster Friess, whose losing endorsement Trump blames on his son.
Trump’s percentages are pretty far off. A total of about 117,000 votes were cast in the gubernatorial primary that Friess lost. Before Election Day, about 32,000 votes were cast by early ballot.
Seventy percent of 117,000 is about 82,000 votes. Trump did tweet his support only after polls opened, but he did so two hours after polls opened — and 10 hours before they closed. It’s unlikely that about 60 percent of the Election Day ballots cast were already in by the time of his tweet. Not that Trump would have any way of knowing that that’s how many votes had been cast, anyway.
If anything, Trump’s endorsement may simply have come too late.
DAILY CALLER: “Sir, what win are you most proud of so far?”
TRUMP: “I think we have a lot of them. The Republican governor of Georgia, he was down 10, and I endorsed him, and I think he won 70-30. He won by 40 points. I did that endorsement at the request, and I liked him a lot. First of all, I have to really respect the candidate, I have to like the candidate, otherwise I’m just not going to get involved. But he’s currently running, as you know, he won the race against the man that was favored. But I did that for Sunny Purdue. But when I did it he was down about 10 points. And he ended up winning by 70-30. He won by 40 points, so that means he picked up 50.”
Here Trump is talking about his endorsement of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who seems to have clearly benefited from Trump’s endorsement. It is a Republican primary, after all, and Trump is very popular with Republicans.
TRUMP: “I mean, there are a lot of them. I would say of the list of 48 victories, I would say that close to half of them were races that could’ve been lost.”
It’s not clear where this figure of 48 endorsements comes from. Ballotpedia tracks Trump’s endorsements and has well over 60 endorsements listed. Some were special elections, and some haven’t yet been settled, but it’s not clear what Trump is including.
Ballotpedia also flags those races that it figures were tightly contested or, if you will, that “could have been lost.” There are 16 such primary contests that haven’t yet been settled — a third of 48. Many of Trump’s primary endorsements were of incumbents who faced little real competition.
TRUMP: “I think the one in Ohio was a great victory, because when I get involved I don’t have the percentages, but he was very, very down. And he ended up winning by 1,800 votes.”
The last polling before the special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District had the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, and Republican Balderson essentially tied. Before that, it was the Democrat who was “very, very down.”
TRUMP: “I would say Kansas is a good example. The governor of Kansas was running against somebody that’s always been, you know, Kris, who’s always been very strong Trump, right from the beginning. And, you know, he’s the governor of Kansas he’s running against. Kris is a good man, so I endorsed him, and he won. . . . Close one, but he won. He was down 11. He was down 11 when I endorsed him with about a week, with about three days left, and he ended up winning.”
Here Trump is taking credit for another close win, that of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in that state’s gubernatorial primary. The polling there was done mostly by Republican polling firms and ranged from Kobach losing by two points to his winning by seven points. He won only after a protracted vote count.
TRUMP: “Donovan [on Staten Island]. He was down 10 and won by 24 points . . . or thereabouts. That was a surprise because he was going to, you know, he was expected to lose. I endorsed him. He won by a lot. As you know, he was expected to lose against the previous congressman, right? He followed him.”
This is about right. A Siena College-NY1 poll taken in early June — pre-Trump endorsement — had Rep. Daniel Donovan trailing by 10. He ended up beating former representative Michael Grimm by more than 25 points.
Then Trump turned his attention to the guy who released this ad, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).
TRUMP: “I guess the one they talk about the most is Florida because he was at 3 — don’t forget when I endorsed him, he was at 3. I put out two tweets. I put one out where I say he’s really good, blah, blah, blah, but that wasn’t an endorsement. That was when he was at 3. A lot of people don’t view that; they view the endorsement. Then a few months later, and he went from 3 to — so he was at 3, with little money, but a great guy and brilliant education. . . . But he was at 3, and he went up to in the 20s with just not an endorsement. And then the endorsement, I mean — . . . Well, the one who lost, who was expected to be the governor of Florida for the last four years. You know, they thought he had $21 million in the bank, and his poll numbers were into the 20s and 30s. And Ron hadn’t really started much of the fundraising yet. And he was at 3. So then he went up from 3 to in the 20s. And then he started fundraising and did very well. And then he went from the 20s to win by 20 points. And that seems to be the one that people are most impressed with.”
So Trump claims that with one tweet he propelled DeSantis from 3 percent to 20 percent in the polls and, with another, to victory.
Trump has actually tweeted about DeSantis 10 times, starting in 2012, when he first ran. It’s not clear which two tweets Trump is pointing to in his comments to the Daily Caller, but it is the case that DeSantis never polled lower than 16 percent in public polls. Trump first tweeted a formal endorsement on June 22; the first poll after that had DeSantis leading by 17 points.
As Politico noted after his primary win, though, DeSantis had another important factor aiding his win: 121 appearances on Fox News and Fox Business from December until the primary late last month.
“DeSantis’s campaign research made one thing clear: a Fox first campaign was superior to a Florida first effort,” Marc Caputo wrote in Politico. “For Republicans, all politics isn’t local — it’s on Fox News.”
That’s the other factor underlying all of Trump’s boasting. It’s clear that he’s popular with Republicans and that, in some cases, his endorsement has aided Republicans in their primary efforts. It’s just not clear, first, how much credit Trump deserves and, second, how much that effect carries over to the more important question for his party: general election battles.
It is clear, though, that Trump would like to promote a very specific representation of his ability to decide electoral contests. It’s clear, too, that his presentation of that ability is broadly overstated.