The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The 10 biggest tests of Trump’s stranglehold on the GOP in 2022

President Donald Trump speaks in support of Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who were then Republican senators from Georgia, on Jan. 4 in Dalton, Ga. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Since the 2016 election, there has been no question about Donald Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party. But generally speaking, we’ve learned about that through attrition — party members who run afoul of him voluntarily heading for the exits, rather than trying their luck with GOP primary voters.

That will change in a significant way in the 2022 midterm elections, as a number of Trump critics and others who have alienated the former president seek to fend off Republican challengers. Trump has made a concerted effort to intervene in such races — often on behalf of rather extreme candidates. So we’ll get a sense of whether those who don’t toe the Trump line on things like the “big lie” can live to tell the tale in the modern GOP, or whether the party will continue its move to the Trumpian fringe.

With a little more than a year left before the elections — and just months until some of these primaries — those races are coming into focus.

But how to gauge just how strong Trump’s grip on the GOP remains? Below are some of the biggest tests and potential tests (in races that have yet to be finalized).

1. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp-David Perdue?

One of the biggest questions right now is whether Kemp (R) gets perhaps the most high-profile primary challenge of the year. Kemp was very much in line with the Trump wing of the party before he, like others, was forced to decide between reality and Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election in his state. He chose the former.

The governor’s actions have earned him what appears to be an increasingly likely primary challenge from former senator Perdue (R), who lost his own seat in a January runoff but has stepped up his criticism of Kemp’s handling of the election.

Perdue, mind you, wasn’t a huge promoter of the “big lie.” But Trump is reportedly pushing him to run, and Perdue has signaled that he would use Kemp’s handling of the election to take him down.

“Forget about me; [the party is] divided,” Perdue recently told a conservative radio host. “And a lot of people feel like that people in power haven’t fought for them and caved in to a lot of things back in 2020 that didn’t have to be done.”

Were a staunch conservative like Kemp to lose on specifically this issue — in a party in which a majority has embraced claims of widespread voter fraud — that would sure say something about the state of play.

2. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger-Rep. Jody Hice

Among the many secretary of state races in which Trump has backed election deniers, none looms larger than this one, in which he’s endorsed Hice (R-Ga.). Hice is challenging Raffensperger (R), who publicly repudiated Trump’s stolen-election claims much more than did the likes of Kemp or pretty much any other Republican.

Most assume that Raffensperger is a goner. But if he is, he’ll have lost to a guy in Hice who advanced some of the most extreme claims about the election and the Capitol riot.

3. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)

If there’s one Republican who compares to Raffensperger in combating the “big lie,” it’s Cheney. She already lost her post in House GOP leadership over it; now she could also lose her House seat.

She too is running for reelection against a Trump-backed opponent, Harriet Hageman, along with several others (who could, importantly, split the anti-Cheney vote). For now, Cheney has raised big money. And much like Mitt Romney in neighboring Utah, she could have some built-in advantages thanks to what amounts to a GOP brand name in Wyoming. (Do read David Montgomery’s piece on how Cheney is wearing on her state’s voters these days.)

It’s difficult to imagine a more symbolic development when it comes to the power of the new Trump GOP than a Cheney losing in Wyoming. And Cheney, more than most anyone else, has compromised what appeared to be a promising political career — which would make a loss land even harder in the party.

4. Idaho Gov. Brad Little-Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin?

A trend you’ll find in this list of Trump endorsements is that the kind of candidates whom the official GOP generally wouldn’t touch are suddenly getting the endorsement of the most high-profile Republican in the land.

Such is certainly the case with McGeachin (R). She has allied with a right-wing militia figure and used Little’s absence from the state to sign what ultimately amounted to symbolic executive orders against coronavirus restrictions that Little (R) refused to intervene on.

Little hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection, and Trump said nice things about him this month — shortly before endorsing McGeachin.

5. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)-Kelly Tshibaka

The tea party couldn’t dislodge Murkowski from the Senate in 2010, but the Trump wing of the party is trying again in 2022 — this time over the moderate senator’s vote to remove Trump from office, among other things. And Trump is backing Republican Kelly Tshibaka.

This one’s quite a bit different from 2010, in that Murkowski needn’t survive the kind of GOP primary she lost to Joe Miller nearly 12 years ago. (Murkowski later won as a write-in candidate in the general election.) Instead, Alaska’s new setup means the top four candidates advance to the general election, at which point there will be ranked-choice voting. All of that accrues to Murkowski’s benefit.

It also downgrades this on the list a bit. But it’s still a race Trump has sought to involve himself in, and it would make an upset an even bigger deal.

6. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.)-John Gibbs

Meijer is another impeachment supporter trying his luck at reelection. He’s also another Republican facing a rather extreme opponent.

As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reported this month, Gibbs was passed over as Trump’s nominee to be director of the Office of Personnel Management because of a paper trail that included posting conspiratorial tweets and defending a Twitter user who espoused antisemitic views.

7. Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.)-Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.)

These two were drawn together recently on the state’s congressional map, with West Virginia losing a district in the latest census. And Trump has sided with Mooney over McKinley, who was one of 13 House Republicans who drew Trump’s ire for supporting President Biden’s infrastructure bill after Election Day this month.

This one is particularly interesting in that the new district is about two-thirds of McKinley’s current territory. Such things usually play a big role in determining who survives districts that are drawn together. Were McKinley to lose, he’d probably have that vote and Trump’s intervention to thank.

8. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.)-Joe Kent

This one embodies just how much Trump’s endorsement could matter. Kent is an untested political neophyte who got the former president’s nod against Herrera Beutler. She, like Cheney, Murkowski and Meijer, voted for Trump’s impeachment. She also introduced evidence late in his impeachment trial suggesting that Trump might have approved of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

As with Murkowski, this isn’t about a GOP primary. Washington state has a top-two system in which the leading vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. That could benefit Herrera Beutler if she makes it there.

9. Massachusetts governor?

One of Trump’s lower-profile recent endorsements has come against one of the most popular governors in the country: Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker.

Trump has backed former state representative Geoff Diehl against Baker, and one recent poll conducted for the Democratic Governors Association showed Diehl up by double digits, despite Baker’s overall popularity. Baker hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection.

Were Diehl to defeat Baker, it would severely imperil the GOP’s chances of holding the governorship in a very blue state. But at least it will have sent a message for Trump.

10. Alabama Senate/governor

One of the most remarkable potential entries on this list is the Alabama governor’s race. Trump is reportedly trying to get one of his former ambassadors, Lynda Blanchard, to switch from a Senate primary against Trump-backed Rep. Mo Brooks to challenge Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Is it because Ivey denounced the “big lie”? Nope. It’s reportedly because Trump blames Ivey for the cancellation of a rally he wanted to hold at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile last summer. A side benefit would be avoiding another split of the pro-Trump vote in the Senate primary, where Brooks faces Blanchard and retiring Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby’s former chief of staff Katie Britt, who has Shelby’s backing.

As in Georgia, though, it could set up a test of Trump’s influence in multiple races at the top of the ballot.