How Will Trump’s Primary Messages Affect the Midterms?

Since late April, citizens nostalgic for Donald Trump’s Twitter feed have been able to sate themselves on Truth Social, a platform launched in February by one of Trump’s companies. After an initial period of silence, the former President now “truths” and “retruths” multiple times a day for his three million-plus followers. (He had about eighty-nine million followers on Twitter when the company suspended his account permanently after January 6th, for fear that it would inspire further violent acts.) His posts are as replete as ever with lies and rants, served up in his familiar vernacular: “Our Elections are Rigged, Inflation is RAMPANT, gas prices and food costs are ‘through the roof,’ our Military ‘Leadership’ is Woke, our Country is going to HELL,” he recently mused.

Truth Social is a characteristic Trump business: opaque and unconvincing. Last fall, its parent company announced a planned merger with a “blank check” company—a Wall Street concoction that can sell shares to the public with less scrutiny than other exchange-listed firms. That deal hasn’t closed yet; meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the announcement was on the up-and-up. A recent regulatory filing states that Truth Social’s prospects rely heavily on Trump’s appeal to his fans, yet Trump himself seems equivocal about his project. According to the filing, once Trump posts something on Truth Social, he is “generally obligated” not to post the same message on other social-media platforms—for six hours.

Trump may be keeping his options open because he is reportedly itching to run for President again in 2024, and his forced exile from Twitter and Facebook has clearly sapped his reach. His success on Twitter arose from his capacity to outrage or amuse a global audience of both enemies and acolytes (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kim Jong Un, as well as your Trumpist cousin across town). On Truth Social, he reprises old hits—the Mueller “witch hunt,” weak Democrats—for homogenous loyalists. The vibe so far suggests punk rock on Broadway. Trump appears to be ginning up a celebrity feud with Elon Musk, who has made moves to buy Twitter and has said that he would allow Trump to return. The former President insists that he’s not interested. “They want me back so badly,” he told a crowd in Wyoming in late May. “And I’m not going back, because we have Truth!”

He was in Wyoming to rally MAGA voters to his revenge campaign against the Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach him in the last days of his Presidency. She is now the vice-chair of the House select committee investigating the January insurrection, which will hold televised hearings beginning this week. Wyoming’s Republican primary is on August 16th, and Trump has endorsed Harriet Hageman, a former Never Trumper who now says that she doesn’t know who really won in 2020. Hageman has a large polling lead, but Cheney has a formidable campaign war chest. Earlier this year, Trump failed to persuade Wyoming’s legislature to rewrite state rules that allow Democrats and Independents to participate in the Republican primary, so crossover votes may help Cheney.

As the self-described “king of endorsements,” Trump has drawn an eclectic parade of supplicants to Mar-a-Lago, where he performs a version of his role on “The Apprentice.” He has called his record of backing candidates who won primaries held in May “very big and successful,” but the lopsided numbers he brags about (“for the ‘Cycle,’ 100 Wins, 6 Losses”) include many nods to unopposed or safe Republican incumbents, whose victories were already assured. In highly contested races, his interventions have had mixed results. His support helped J. D. Vance win Ohio’s Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat. On Friday, his candidate Mehmet Oz was declared the winner of the Senate primary in Pennsylvania, where, also with Trump’s blessing, Doug Mastriano, a far-right Christian nationalist who paid for buses to carry protesters to Washington on January 6th, won the Republican nomination for governor. He has said that he had serious doubts about the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory in 2020; if Mastriano wins in November, he will wield considerable authority over his state’s election administration.

Yet Trump failed dramatically to put his men in position for state offices in Georgia, where he tried to oust Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican governor, by backing David Perdue, a former U.S. senator. (Trump’s pick for the Senate, Herschel Walker, did win his primary.) In 2020, Kemp repeatedly withstood Trump’s pressure to change Georgia’s Presidential-election results. Former Vice-President Mike Pence travelled to the state last month to appear with Kemp, making a show of his estrangement from Trump, a break that became irreparable when Pence declined to overturn Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Kemp crushed Perdue by more than fifty percentage points. Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who famously ignored Trump’s plea during a phone call to “find” enough votes to tip the state his way, also comfortably defeated a Trump-backed challenger.

An optimistic reading is that Georgia’s Republican voters were, at the least, disinterested in Trump’s unrelenting obsession with his loss to President Biden. Yet, according to a poll from last year by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, well more than half of Republican voters nationwide believe Trump’s Big Lie that Biden’s victory was rigged. Trump’s grip on Trumpism may be loosening a little, but the malignancy he has seeded in American politics cannot be eradicated anytime soon. His talking points about corrupt elections resound daily across right-wing media. Republican leaders and candidates embrace his isolationism and his mobilization of white-grievance politics. If Mastriano is elected, or if like-minded allies take control of election machinery in other swing states, the stage could be set for another constitutional crisis around voting results in 2024, whether Trump is the Republican Presidential nominee or not.

Trump apparently feels no compunction, as a former President, about questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s courts or the rule of law. “Our Legal System is CORRUPT, our Judges (and Justices!) are highly partisan, compromised or just plain scared,” he recently wrote on Truth Social. His new platform may look like a cynical way to make money—the regulatory filing warned investors of many potential hazards, citing the examples of Trump Plaza and Trump Castle, among other past failures. But Trump’s abuse of Truth as a business brand is trivial compared with his ongoing vandalism in the public square. In November, his name won’t be on ballots, but voters will have to decide once more whether to endorse his hold on our faltering democracy. ♦

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