- Donald Trump’s chances for a 2024 presidential run hinge on GOP success in the 2022 midterms.
- Republicans and conservatives at CPAC said Trump can help his presidential prospects by knocking Democrats out of power on Capitol Hill.
- “Let’s be frank, that’s the whole ballgame for him,” said one longtime GOP strategist.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
ORLANDO, Florida — Donald Trump faces a referendum on his political future during the upcoming 2022 midterms that will go a long way toward determining if he can seriously expect to compete in the next Republican presidential primaries.
GOP sources and conservatives delivered that message again and again during interviews Friday and throughout the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in central Florida.
Sure, they just gave Trump rock star treatment and even sent him back to Mar-a-Lago the victor of a straw poll as their favorite for the nomination the next time the GOP picks a presidential candidate. But some of those same people also said they’d be watching Trump closely first to see if he can do his part to return Republicans to majority status in the House and Senate and serve as a big check on the final two years of President Joe Biden’s term.
Trump’s test starts with the Republican primaries that will determine who even makes it onto the general election ballot in November 2022. The ex-president teased his own 2024 ambitions during his 90-minute Sunday speech to close out CPAC while also sending a strong signal that he’d very much be weighing in on which MAGA-hungry candidates he thinks belong on the midterm ballot that comes next.
“Now more than ever is the time for tough strong and energetic Republican leaders, with spines of steel, we need strong leadership,” Trump said at CPAC. “We cannot have leaders who show more passion for condemning their fellow Americans than they have ever shown for standing up to Democrats.”
Any Trump-branded GOP nominees running in tight congressional races against Democrats will carry the ex-president’s reputation and baggage with them. Republican looking beyond 2022 say that wins in the midterms will be the best gauge on whether Trump still has the kind of political mojo that translates onto the even bigger stage in 2024.
“If he loses at a greater rate than he did in past primary cycles, he weakens his case of strength,” said one longtime Republican strategist who spent the weekend at CPAC. “Let’s be frank, that’s the whole ballgame for him.”
Added Scott Reed, a longtime GOP strategist: “There are no guarantees in national politics. We all must stay focused on the historic opportunities the GOP has in 2022 to take the House and the Senate.”
History is on Trump and the GOP’s side
Trump and the Republicans have history on their side going into 2022.
That’s because the party holding the White House for a first term has often been the one that suffers midterm losses. President Bill Clinton’s Democrats saw this happen to their House majority in 1994. President Barack Obama’s Democrats experienced the same in 2010. And Trump’s GOP got swept out of House power in 2018.
Mathematically, the numbers are looking good for the GOP in 2022. They need to flip just five Democratic-held districts to recapture the House majority. In the Senate, Republicans will be defending far more seats than the Democrats during the upcoming midterms, though the Democrats’ margin is as slim as it gets in a chamber divided 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris currently casting the tie-breaking vote.
Congressional Republican majorities coming out of 2022 would be bad news for Biden. His legislative priorities? Toast. Investigations into his administration? You bet. Impeachment? Not out of the realm of the possible. And a GOP-led Senate would all but kill the chance of any additional Biden nominees getting confirmed.
But Trump could easily complicate matters. Republicans blamed the president for his comments in January about voter fraud that helped tamp down GOP voter turnout in a pair of Georgia Senate runoff elections. More claims of that sort won’t help Republicans who need Trump supporters to come out in force during midterm races where there’s no presidential contest at the top of the ballot.
The ex-president’s decision to weigh in on the Republican primaries also opens the door for the Democrats. On Sunday, Trump said he’d be endorsing more conservative primary challenges against the 10 House Republicans who supported his second impeachment last December.
Conservatives skeptical of Trump’s alleged coattails have dinged him in private for whittling away at the party’s support. But they’ve held their fire in public, leaving a sense of ambivalence about Trump reflected in the annual CPAC/Washington Times straw poll. That survey released just before Trump’s speech found 97 percent of attendees approved of his performance as president, but only 68 percent wanted him to run again in 2024.
Trump enters 2022 with a mixed track record. His surprise White House victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 helped Senate Republicans keep control of the upper chamber. But Trump’s deep unpopularity in 2018 played a big part in Democrats’ sweep back to power in the House for the first time in eight years.
Republicans are mindful of that as they try to go on the attack in Biden’s first midterms at the same time the former 45th president seeks revenge against GOP lawmakers who were insufficiently loyal to him and his causes.
It’s in many of those House races where Trump is going to have to demonstrate the kind of political power that shows he also deserves the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
“I think that that’s going to be very important,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a longtime tea party leader and speaker at CPAC this year. “I think that we have the opportunity to, as conservatives, create a check and balance on the Biden White House.”
Trump’s unshakable popularity with his diehard fans might create yet more challenges for the GOP as it tries to make gains against Biden and the Democrats in 2022.
Trisha Hope, for example, roamed the halls of CPAC this weekend wearing a roughly 3-foot tall human billboard advertising her book of all Trump’s tweets as president.
A veteran of Trump campaign rallies, Hope said she was angry with her local congressman, Rep. Randy Weber. The Texas Republican had supported Trump in the latest impeachment fight, as well as the president’s attempts to overturn the election.
But Hope said Weber still didn’t do enough to stand up for Trump.
“We can accept a loss, but it’s gotta be a fair loss,” Hope said. “And this was not. Or at least it’s not been proven to me that it has. I’m very disappointed in my congressman.”
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