A A string of candidates backed by former President Donald Trump were bombarded at the polls on Tuesday, suggesting his hold on the party may not be as strong as some thought.
But that doesn’t mean Republican voters distrust the former president, just that Trump isn’t controlling them.
“A very big and successful night of political endorsements,” Trump said in a post on his Truth Social account on Wednesday. Clearly this was not the case.
It was a particularly bad night for the former president of Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp, who refused to back Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election, leads Trump’s hand-picked challenger David Lost, by 52 points. Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who rejected Trump’s demands in a January 2, 2021 phone call to swing the state in his favor, handily defeats Representative Jody Hice, whom Trump endorsed, from 52% to 33%. And Trump’s pick for Georgia attorney general also lost in the primary by a wide margin.
Does this suggest that Trump is favored by Republicans in Georgia? Not really. State Republicans still love Trump, but don’t feel obligated to follow all of his recommendations. (They backed his U.S. Senate pick, former soccer star Herschel Walker.) In Georgia, 86% of Republican voters view Trump favorably, according to Morning consultation poll in March, a rating down just 3 points from 89% in January 2021.
In Pennsylvania, Trump’s preference among Republicans rose from 72% when he left office to 77% in March, according to the same poll. But that didn’t translate to an easy victory in last week’s GOP primary, where Trump nominee Mehmet Oz is locked in a close race with David McCormick heading for a recount.
Republican voters are showing they can both support Trump and want to make their own choices for party candidates, in their own states, says Larry Sabato, founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“Even if Trump would have all of their votes or the vast majority of their votes if he ran in 2024, that doesn’t mean he can tell them who to vote for, their own governor or their own senator or their own member of the Congress,” Sabato said. “Americans are by nature independent and contentious, even within the same party.”
In Tuesday’s election in Alabama, the Republican primary for an open Senate seat is heading to a runoff between Rep. Mo Brooks and Katie Britt. Many political observers assumed that Brooks’ campaign was over in March, when Trump decided to strip Brooks of his endorsement because Brooks’ poll numbers were down. Brooks also angered Trump when he suggested Republicans should look beyond the 2020 election results and focus on 2022 and 2024.
Brooks said in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday that his poll numbers rose after Trump reneged on his endorsement, but stressed he doesn’t think Trump’s influence has waned.
“Nobody is 100% influential,” Brooks said. “There are different degrees of influence.”
Even after losing Trump’s support, Brooks retained his “MAGA Mo” campaign slogan and continued to voice his belief in Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Brooks spoke at the rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, during which he told the crowd that then stormed through the Capitol building, “Today is when American patriots begin to take names and kicking ass”.
Trump’s mixed results this campaign cycle have prompted his advisers to advise him to curb his endorsement in so many races. “He’s going to slow him down, which might not be a bad thing,” said a former Trump aide still in touch with Trump’s inner circle. Several of Trump’s former aides have used their access to introduce him to their paying political clients and convince him to back them, a move that can leave Trump “holding the bag” when those candidates lose, the former aide said. But the aide predicted the impact on his base’s support for Trump was minimal. “They don’t blame him.”
Nonetheless, Trump’s rivals are taking note that his grip on the base is not absolute. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida are all likely to be emboldened by the mixed results and may see an opening to challenge Trump for the presidential nomination. Republican in 2024. The weakness he displays, if you want to interpret it as weakness, will encourage Pence and DeSantis and ‘fill in the blank’ to challenge him,” Sabato says. It’s an opening of Trump’s own making.
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