He threw his chips in on Susan Wright — the widow of former Congressman Ron Wright (R-TX-06) whose February death created the vacancy — and lost the hand when then-state Rep. Jake Ellzey pulled an upset.
The value of Trump’s endorsement was now in question, or so the narrative went. With a bevy of high-profile GOP primary races on the horizon, perhaps Trump’s support now lacked luster.
But don’t tell Ellzey that. After his win, the newly elected congressman dismissed the notion on Dallas radio host Mark Davis’ show. “That’s nonsense,” he said flatly, continuing, “People from the media that don’t live here will ask that question incessantly…because they want that.”
“The president is still exceptionally popular in this district.”
Even without the benefit of hindsight, Ellzey did not abandon the Trump appeals. In the runoff, after Wright nabbed the Trump endorsement, Ellzey’s campaign released a video of Trump voters doubling down on their support for the Ellis County Republican.
This week, after his endorsee’s defeat, Trump attempted to triangulate — saying both that the Ellzey victory occurred because of Democratic support and that “I won because we ended up with a great Republican candidate.”
Wright won the primary by a wide margin, running up the score on Election Day thanks to the Trump endorsement two days prior, and Ellzey prevented Democrats from having their own candidate in the runoff — edging out Jana Lynne Sanchez by 354 votes.
Trump also pointed to that as a tally in his own win column.
Ellzey was no lightweight — pulling in significant support from the likes of former Governor Rick Perry and Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02), among others — and a combination of factors likely led to his victory including the apparent anti-Trump protest votes from Democratic voters.
But while Ellzey has likely made it past his primary difficulties, other candidates with their GOP fights still underway have landed similarly on the issue.
Last week, Trump bestowed upon incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton an endorsement for re-election. Following that, one of Paxton’s opponents, George P. Bush, who also sought the endorsement, tempered any frustration he might’ve had with the former president and instead redirected it at his opponent.
“[T]he reality is here that Ken misled the president,” he told Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade. He even added that he’ll “continue to be a supporter of the president and of America first policies and I’ll continue to fight for that as land commissioner and hopefully as attorney general.”
Nearly the same episode played out in the gubernatorial primary when Trump endorsed incumbent Greg Abbott. His then-highest-profile opponent, former state Sen. Don Huffines, rejoined, “I am the clear Trump candidate in the Texas governor’s race,” touting his and his family’s close support of the former president.
“[Abbott] actively worked against President Trump on the most critical issue facing Texas: the southern border,” Huffines continued.
Another challenger, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, shrugged at the endorsement after he announced his candidacy on July 4. “It has no relevance to me as I prepare to run for governor of Texas,” he said, adding that it “doesn’t hurt” his chances in the race.
The campaign issue for which Trump is most known — illegal immigration and the border wall — remains the biggest theme in each race because it is the biggest issue among, if not Texans entirely, Texas Republicans.
Something the 6th Congressional race also showed was that positioning oneself in deliberate opposition to the former president as a Republican is not exactly a recipe for success. Michael Wood, who fashioned himself the “anti-Trump” candidate, finished ninth, fifth among Republicans, in the open general election back in May.
National pundit Bill Krystal’s support was not enough to pull him above 3.2 percent.
In 2020, Trump waded into two contested GOP congressional primaries — notably before his own re-election bid failed. But Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23) received his support against the Ted Cruz-backed Raul Reyes in the primary to replace outgoing Rep. Will Hurd.
Up in the 13th Congressional District, Trump’s former White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, won with the former president’s support in a runoff. Before the official endorsement during the runoff, Trump told voters to support Jackson on the day of the March GOP primary.
In the 11th Congressional District, those in the area opined that Trump’s endorsement of now-Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX-11) propelled him to outright victory in the primary, avoiding a runoff in the deeply red district.
The 2022 midterm will provide another data point from which to judge the value of Trump’s endorsement, but so far it has proven substantial, but not unassailable, in Texas — a fact even most of the candidates who lose out on it acknowledge, if tacitly.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.