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Trump’s 30 percent problem

Former GOP senator David Perdue speaks during a Bikers for Trump campaign event in Plainville, Ga., in front of a banner falsely asserting that President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Donald Trump suffered his worst defeats of the 2022 primary season on Tuesday in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) turned aside a Trump-backed primary challenge by more than 50 points, while one of his chief GOP critics, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), somehow won without a runoff.

But while the margins were striking, there were also somewhat predictable. That’s because over and over again, it’s been shown that Trump’s endorsement is often only good for less than one-third of the vote. Sometimes that’s been good enough in crowded races, but more often it hasn’t been.

The sum total: While Trumpian candidates are winning, the hardcore Trump “stolen election” contingent appears shy of a majority of the party — as is the contingent willing to accept Trump’s advice on candidates.

In the end, former senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) took a measly 21 percent of the vote against Kemp, while Raffensperger challenger Rep. Jody Hice was at 33 percent.

While Perdue is now the low water mark for Trump-backed candidates, Hice’s showing aligns with the others. Nebraska governor candidate Charles Herbster: 30 percent. Idaho gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin: 32 percent. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.): 32 percent. Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate candidates J.D. Vance and Mehmet Oz: 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Indeed, in high-profile competitive primaries pitting Trump against other factions of the GOP, that one-third vote share has been more the rule than the exception. Rep. Ted Budd did get 59 percent in the North Carolina Senate race, and Rep. Alex Mooney (W.Va.) also garnered a majority in an incumbent-vs.-incumbent House primary. But aside from another incumbent who got 43 percent — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who then won more resoundingly in his runoff Tuesday — and much-lower-profile races (often involving incumbents in no real danger), nobody else has cracked 33 percent.

Both Vance and Oz, it bears emphasizing, appear likely to win. Vance already has, and Oz maintains a lead of about 1,000 votes over David McCormick in the as-yet-uncalled Pennsylvania Senate primary. Both faced plenty of opponents — including opponents who similarly catered to the Trumpian base. Ditto Paxton, who significantly expanded his initial vote total, defeating George P. Bush 68-32 in the runoff. Trumpian candidates are clearly winning majorities in most big races, even as Trump endorsees are generally pretty far from it.

But it’s also worth taking a look at just how much Trump’s actual endorsement helps — and how much voters are heeding his word about who’s most in line with the MAGA movement.

In Ohio, Vance had polled in the low teens before Trump’s mid-April endorsement. But one poll conducted immediately before Trump’s endorsement put him right up there with the leaders at 23 percent, before he took 32 percent in the end.

In Pennsylvania, a Fox News poll in March showed Oz trailing McCormick by nine points before Trump endorsed him and he drew about level with McCormick, which is where the campaign ended. But other early polling showed the race remained tight throughout. As with in neighboring Ohio, Trump’s endorsement might have been good for about 10 points, on the margin, but it’s not quite so clear.

(We don’t include the Pennsylvania governor’s race in the chart above, because state Sen. Doug Mastriano was already well on his way to victory when Trump endorsed him in the final days. But there, Mastriano was up 10 to 12 points in polls before the endorsement, and won by 24. Nor do we include Herschel Walker’s win in the Georgia Senate primary Tuesday, since all sides of the party generally lined up behind him.)

Trump’s endorsement surely benefited Budd, who defeated no less than a former governor, Pat McCrory, by more than 30 points. But it came very early, so it’s difficult to do a before-and-after.

Trump’s endorsements in the 2022 Republican primaries

Another interesting case study comes in Alabama. Like Budd, Rep. Mo Brooks got Trump’s very early backing in a key Southern Senate race. Then, as with Budd, grumbling ensued about how Brooks was underperforming. While Trump stuck with Budd, he dumped Brooks, un-endorsing him in March. Then came the twist: Brooks actually gained in the polls since losing Trump’s endorsement and made the runoff Tuesday.

Which brings us to Georgia. Trump’s endorsement there also came early — in December, after a concerted effort to woo Perdue into the race — so we don’t have good pre-endorsement polling to compare the final results to. But what we have seen is that the race was polling competitively at the time, and Kemp only expanded his lead. What’s more, Trump’s own political operation ran a poll in summer 2021 that suggested Trump’s endorsement would push Perdue into the lead by double digits over Kemp.

That, needless to say, never materialized — far from it. And now there will be increasing questions about why Trump couldn’t marshal his followers against a governor who he said had so wronged him — and them. If there was one state that Trump pegged for making such a statement about the 2020 election, after all, it was this one.

This story has been updated with the latest news.