Election 2020

Did Trump's Endorsements Work in the 2018 Midterms?

Did Trump's Endorsements Work in the 2018 Midterms?
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats took the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans gained seats in the U.S. Senate. On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump took credit for the many surprise Republican victories in key U.S. Senate and state governor’s races. Did his endorsements really make that much of a difference?

Democrats and the liberal media will claim that they did not. As of Wednesday morning, only 49 of the candidates Trump endorsed won their elections, and 30 of them lost, giving Trump a 62 percent win rate — not bad, but not impressive either.

The president had a similar record on governor’s races (60 percent — his candidates won 9 and lost 6) and in Senate races (55 percent — his candidates won 11 and lost 9).

Some races are more important than others, however. Trump endorsed many candidates in blue states who did not have much chance of winning, and he endorsed many in red states who were always going to win. The central endorsements came in purple states, where a Republican win can serve as a bellwether for the 2020 presidential election. In these states, Trump-endorsed candidates delivered, and in important ways.

Here are a few key takeaways from the 2018 midterms that bode well for Trump in 2020 and the power of his endorsement.

1. Florida.

Florida has long been considered a quintessential purple bellwether state. The third most-populous state in the nation, Florida voted for the eventual presidential winner in the last six presidential elections.

Every single Trump-endorsed candidate in Florida won his election, and many were expected to lose. Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) won the U.S. Senate seat in a hotly contested race against incumbent Bill Nelson.

While Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats, Trump had not endorsed either of the Republican candidates in those races. Indeed, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) had distanced himself from Trump, and Maria Elvira Salazar had tiptoed around the president’s issues.

All of Trump’s endorsed House candidates — Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and candidates Ross Spano and Michael Waltz — won their respective elections.

Critically, Trump also endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who was considered a long-shot in the gubernatorial race. As the 2020 redistricting looms, governor’s races took on massive importance. DeSantis’s victory means Republicans have the edge in drawing Florida’s congressional districts, helping to keep the state red.

Trump’s victory in Florida is truly impressive, especially in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. While some Democrats ran by campaigning against Trump, he won the major victories.

2. Other key Senate races.

Trump-endorsed candidates won 11 Senate races and lost 9, but many of the races they lost were in blue states. Key toss-up races went red for candidates Trump backed.

Four Republicans picked up Senate seats from Democrats: Florida’s Rick Scott, Indiana’s Mike Braun, Missouri’s Josh Hawley, and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer. Trump had campaigned for each of them.

Trump-endorsed incumbents Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and John Barrasso (R-Wy.) also won, as did Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn and Utah’s Mitt Romney. The great Democrat hope for Texas, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, went down to defeat, despite stealing money from other close races across the country (thanks, Beto!). Taylor Swift’s endorsement for Phil Bredesen in Tennessee failed to flip that seat, as anyone familiar with Tennessee could easily have predicted.

That said, Trump’s chosen candidates did lose a few key swing races. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) lost his seat, as did challengers in Michigan (John James), Montana (Matt Rosendale), Ohio (Jim Renacci), Pennsylvania (Lou Barletta), West Virginia (Patrick Morrisey), and Wisconsin (Leah Vukmir) — all states Trump won in 2016 (besides Nevada).

The president endorsed Karin Housley in Minnesota’s special election, but Minnesota is a very blue state. The president also backed Corey Stewart (despite his sidling up to white nationalists) in Virginia — which, like Colorado, has effectively become a blue state. Results from Arizona, where Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) remains in the lead, are forthcoming.

While Trump’s pick in West Virginia, Patrick Morrissey, lost to Democrat Joe Manchin, this election was not a complete loss for Trump. Manchin has often bucked his party, voting with Republicans in the Senate — most importantly in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

3. Other key gubernatorial races.

As in the Senate races, key swing states chose Republican governors, Republicans endorsed by Trump. Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) won re-election in Arizona against much-hyped Hispanic education candidate David Garcia. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Brian Kemp in Georgia defeated the Democrat hopes in those states. Even in Ohio and Alaska, Republicans Mike DeWine and Mike Dunleavy won, thanks in part to Trump’s endorsement.

Govs. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), Henry McMaster (R-S.C.), and Greg Abbott (R-Texas) won re-election in their red states. Bill Lee won in Tennessee.

Each of these victories will matter a great deal as the 2020 census approaches.

Many of the governor’s races Trump candidates lost were likely to go blue anyway. Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s state treasurer, lost to gay businessman financier Jared Polis, one of the architects of the Blueprint, Democrats’ successful strategy to turn Colorado blue. Like Colorado, it seems Nevada has become a blue state, with Adam Laxalt’s defeat. Jeff Johnson’s loss in Minnesota should come as no surprise.

Three losses were indeed painful, however. Kris Kobach’s defeat in Kansas might signal a red state becoming slightly purple, while Bill Schuette’s loss in Michigan and Scott Walker’s loss in Wisconsin are genuinely worrisome — Trump won both of those states, even though they are traditionally more blue.

Not a wave, a realignment.

The 2018 midterms did not deliver the Democrat fever dream of a “Blue Wave,” but they did deliver the House of Representatives. While 29 of Trump’s House candidates won and only 15 lost, the president did not support enough candidates to keep the lower chamber red. Expect him to endorse more of them in 2020.

This marks an important contrast to former president Barack Obama, who jumped into the 2018 midterms and mostly flopped, according to MarketWatch.

As Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said last night, Republican gains in the Senate “defied history, an achievement reached only for times in history.”

“Grassroots enthusiasm for President Trump, who did more than any President in history to support Republican candidates, and the Republican Party’s expansive get-out-the-vote operation, turned the forecasted Democrat tsunami into a ripple,” McDaniel argued. She credited Trump with helping Republicans achieve “a stronger position than nearly anyone predicted.”

That said, states like Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin went strongly for Democrats, more than could be expected.

Neither the “Blue Wave” nor Trump’s “Red Wave” took place, but rather a realignment. Some states became more red — Arizona, Florida, Montana, North Dakota — other states became more blue. Trump is looking good for 2020, but it will still be a battle.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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