Former president steadily cementing control of GOP ahead of presidential bid in 2024, writes Andrew Buncombe
Donald Trump’s name was not on the ballot.
But he emerged as a clear winner on a night that will likely prove critical not only to his political future, but the fortunes of the United States.
The former president has backed numerous candidates as he seeks to cement his hold on the party, and he endorsed candidates in five showcase Republican primary races that were being closely watched as an indicator of the power of such patronage.
As results from races being held in five states – Idaho, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Oregon – were coming in, two of his picks, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, and Ted Budd in North Carolina, were named easy, early winners – Mastriano for governor, and Budd for US Senate.
A third win for Trump came an hour or two later, when 26-year-old Bo Hines won the race to be the candidate North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.
The 75-year-old Trump has thrown his backing behind many extreme or unlikely individuals during his time in politics, not least Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn.
Yet, among the those figures, few underscore the Republican Party’s transformation during his grip on it, than Mastriano, a 58-year-old state senator who was present during Trump’s Stop the Steal rally on 6 January 2021 and who continues to deny the legitimacy of of Joe Biden’s presidency.
“We had the hardest working campaign in this primary,” Mastriano, who defeated Lou Barletta and Bill McSwain, said at his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia. “And we’re going to have the hardest working campaign in this general election.”
He also listed off the things he would do on his first day in office.
“Mandates are gone. Any jab for job requirements are gone, critical race theory is over,” he said to roars from his supporters. “Only biological females can play on biological female team and you can only use the bathroom that your biological anatomy says.”
In North Carolina, another Trump-backed candidate, Budd, was equally forthright and looked forward to his showdown in the Senate’s general election against Democrat, Cheri Beasley, who won her party’s primary.
Budd, the victor in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in North Carolina, told supporters, “We need to pull together and look to the race in November.”
He said the Republican candidates took a unity pledge to support the eventual nominee.
Budd wasted no time blasting the Democratic nominee. “Cheri Beasley is the most radical liberal candidate to ever run for Senate in North Carolina,” he said, going on to slam the “Biden-Beasley lawless open border agenda.”
It appeared not all of Trump’s candidates were going to make it over the line.
In North Carolina, the controversial congressman Madison Cawthorn, the House’s youngest member, lost to state Senator Chuck Edwards. The 26-year-old had infuriated some in his own party with a string of embarrassing episodes, including a claim that legislative leaders invited him to a cocaine-fueled orgy.
Meanwhile while back in Pennsylvania, Mr Trump’s pick for the Senate, Mehmet Oz – TV’s Dr Oz – was running second behind the more establishment David McCormick, and ahead of “ultra-MAGA” candidate Kathy Barnette.
The difference between the television personality, and his opponent, a hedge fund manager, was barely one-tenth of a one percentage point, ensuring no winner was going to be announced on Tuesday.
“I want to thank Sean Hannity,” Oz said, referring to the Fox News anchor who had also backed his candidacy. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Even if Trump did not get a clean sweep on Tuesday night, he scored enough wins to show the power he wields; Mastriano, in particular, had been trailing until the former president throw his support behind him.
Yet at broader level, Trump had already won before any results were announced. His continued presence as the most likely Republican presidential candidate in 2024, and his continued denial of the 2020 results, has pushed many candidates to try and copy and emulate him.
The selection process he oversaw at his estate in Florida – a Mar-a-Lago political beauty contest where people were forced to beg and scrape – showed he had lost none of his knack for understanding how to put on a good show.
This ought to worry Democrats.
Biden can issue as many statements as he likes of congratulations for Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who beat congressman Conor Lamb in the Democratic primary for the Senate.
And the Democratic Governors Association can call Mastriano an “extremist running on a dangerous agenda”.
But just days after 10 African Americans were killed by a an alleged white supremacist in Buffalo, Trump has shown whatever he is, or whatever his brand of politics represents, it can very often win.