Donald Trump may not be on the ballot, but his former officials are
Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to play kingmaker have had, up to this point, a mixed record of success in high-profile Republican primaries this year.
But one area where he has proved influential is helping elevate former officials from his administration who are running for office.
The latest example came this week. CNN projected late Thursday that Ryan Zinke, a former congressman who served as Interior secretary under Trump, won the GOP primary that took place Tuesday in Montana’s 1st Congressional District.
It was not an easy victory for Zinke, who resigned from his post at the Interior Department in 2018 following a series of ethics-related controversies. As Zinke ran against four other Republicans in the primary, he also faced questions about his residency. Ultimately, Zinke eked out a 2-point victory. Trump’s involvement, then, may have made the difference.
Several other former Trump officials have advanced to the general election recently. All the way back in February 2021, Trump endorsed his former aide Max Miller in his primary challenge to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the then-President over his role on January 6. Later in the year, Gonzalez announced he would not run for reelection. Following the redistricting process, Miller ended up running in the same district as GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, who also decided against seeking another term.
Miller has faced allegations of abuse from his ex-girlfriend, which he has denied, and was subpoenaed late last year by the House select committee investigating January 6. Still, Miller cruised to victory in his May 3 primary.
In Pennsylvania, Jim Bognet, a former Export-Import Bank official in the Trump administration, comfortably won the GOP primary in the state’s 8th District on May 17 after receiving the former President’s endorsement a few weeks prior.
The most notable member of the Trump administration running for office this year is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary. Just days after Trump left office, Sanders entered the race for Arkansas governor with the former President’s support. From there, it was smooth sailing for Sanders, who is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. She won the May 24 GOP primary with 83% of the vote.
And looking ahead to next week’s primary in South Carolina, Trump is backing Katie Arrington, a former Defense Department official, in her GOP primary challenge to Rep. Nancy Mace, whom the former President has viewed as insufficiently loyal.
In all of these cases, the candidates featured Trump prominently in their campaign ads and websites. The former President held rallies (or tele-rallies) that benefited them. And with the exception of Bognet, who faces a competitive race against a Democratic incumbent this fall, the others are running in safe Republican areas.
The Point: Regardless of how Trump’s personal political future plays out, he has ensured that his impact on the Republican Party will be felt for a long time to come by lifting not just like-minded candidates to victory, but also those who played a direct role in his White House tenure.