Trump’s attempt to shape the GOP faces a test with voters in the May election

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump The post-presidency enters a new phase this month as US voters begin to weigh the candidates he elevated to pursue a vision of a Republican Party steeped in hardline populism, culture wars and denial of its 2020 campaign loss.

The first test comes Tuesday as voters in Ohio choose between the Trump-backed JD Vance for an open seat in the US Senate and several other contenders who spent months clamoring for the former president’s support. In the coming weeks, elections in NebraskaPennsylvania and North Carolina it will also serve as a referendum on Trump’s ability to shape the future of the Republican Party.

In almost every case, Trump has endorsed only those who accept his bogus claims of voter fraud and excuse the deadly insurrection in the US Capitol that he inspired last year.

“The month of May is going to be a critical window for where we are,” said Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, a Trump critic who defended sitting Republican governors in Georgia, Ohio and Idaho against Trump-backed challengers this week. month. “I’m just worried that there are some people who might try to wreck the party or burn it down.”

Few states can be a higher priority for Trump than Georgia, where early voting begins the Monday before the May 24 primary. He has taken a particularly active role in the gubernatorial race there, enlisting a former US senator to take on the incumbent Republican for disagreeing with his electoral lie. For similar reasons, Trump is also aiming to unseat the Republican secretary of state, whom he unsuccessfully lobbied to overturn President Joe Biden’s decision. victory.

While the main season will run well into the summer, the first batch of races could set the tone for the year. If Republican voters in early states back Trump-endorsed candidates, it would validate the former president’s kingmaker status, likely enhancing his power as he considers another run for president. However, the high-profile setbacks could dent his stature and give a stronger footing to those hoping to promote an alternative vision for the GOP.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz predicted a strong May for Trump and his allies.

“The voices in Washington that want him to fade into obscurity or be silenced are involved in their own brand of wishful thinking,” Cruz said in an interview. “That’s not going to happen. He shouldn’t either.

As Republicans grapple with Trump, Democrats face their own set of revealing primaries.

Candidates representing the moderate and progressive wings of the Democrats are pulling the party in opposite directions while offering conflicting messages on how to overcome its serious political shortcomings, Biden’s weak position main among them. History suggests that the Democrats, as the party that controls Washington, may be headed for big losses in November no matter which way they go.

But while Democrats engage in passionate policy debates, Republicans are waging deeply personal and costly attacks on each other that are designed, above all, to win over Trump and his strongest supporters.

Florida Senator Rick Scottwho is leading the GOP effort to retake the Senate, described May as a brutal qualifying period that is likely to be dominated by Republican infighting rather than political solutions or contrasts with Democrats that he would like to see.

“Primaries too often become kind of character assassinations,” Scott said in an interview. “That is what has happened.”

He added: “Hopefully, people will join in.”

No race can be more complicated than Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Trump has spent months attacking Republican incumbents Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He blames both men for not working hard enough to reverse his narrow defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

The results in Georgia were certified after a trio of counts, including one partially done by hand. All affirmed Biden’s victory.

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s fraud allegations were also roundly rejected by the courts, including Trump-appointed judges.

Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a frequent critic of Trump who is not running for re-election, described Trump’s decision to endorse former Sen. David Perdue against Kemp as an “embarrassing” waste of time that could undermine the broader goals of the Republican Party this fall.

Duncan predicted that Trump would ultimately win some races and lose others this month, but he was especially optimistic about Kemp’s chances of beating Trump’s challenge.

“If an incumbent governor is able to defeat the entire notion of Donald Trump by a great deal, and others on the ticket, I think we will send a message that it will take more than an endorsement from Donald Trump to call yourself a Republican,” he said. .

For now, though, Trump is arguably the most powerful Republican in the nation, as even those on opposite sides of the former president are careful to note their allegiance to him. Cross, which backs opponents of Trump-backed Senate candidates in Ohio and Pennsylvania, downplayed any disagreement with him in an interview. Cruz noted that he made his pick long before Trump.

“During the four years that he was president, Donald Trump had no stronger ally in the Senate than me,” Cruz said.

Six months before the general election, GOP candidates in key primaries have already spent mountains of campaign cash attacking each other while Democrats save their resources heavily — and sharpest attacks — for November.

With early voting already underway in Ohio, a half dozen of the state’s high-profile Republican Senate primary candidates and their allied outside groups have spent more than $66 million this year combined on TV advertising as of last week, according to officials. Democrats Tracking Ads. spent. The vast majority of the ads were Republican-on-Republican attacks.

Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland real estate developer and investment banker, spent $15 million on television advertising alone as of last week. That includes an ad campaign attacking Vance and highlighting his earlier description of Trump as “an idiot.”

Meanwhile, the pro-Vance super PAC known as Protect Ohio Values ​​has spent $10 million on the primary so far, including a recent barrage of attack ads featuring Cruz-backed candidate Josh Mandel as “another politician.” unsuccessful career”.

On the other hand, the top Democratic Senate hopeful, Rep. Tim Ryan, has spent less than $3 million so far on positive TV ads promoting his own push to protect Ohio manufacturing jobs from China.

The disparities in spending in the high-profile Senate primaries in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were equally staggering.

In Pennsylvania, where Trump-backed Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund executive David McCormick are locked in a fierce fight for the Republican nomination, candidates and allied outside groups have spent more than $48 million on television advertising to date. the moment. Democrats spent just over $10 million.

And in North Carolina, Republican forces have spent more than $15 million in a divisive primary pitting Trump-backed Rep. Ted Budd against former Gov. Pat McCrory. Democrats, who have rallied behind former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, spent just over $2 million.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who is leading the Democrats’ effort to hold on to a majority in the Senate, said Republicans are essentially creating Democrats’ general election ads for themselves. He described the intensity of the Republican infighting in several states as “toxic to the character of the Republican candidates.”

“They’re trying to compete to see who’s the Trumpiest of the Trumpsters,” Peters said. “They’re not talking about issues that people care about.”

At the same time, Peters acknowledged challenges from his own party, particularly Biden’s low popularity. He said it would be up to each individual candidate to decide whether he invites the Democratic president to campaign on his behalf.

“I think the president can be helpful,” Peters said of Biden. But “this is about the candidates. They are running to represent their state in the United States Senate. And they have to rise and fall because of who they are as individuals.”

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