Political endorsements are relevant again; If the endorsement comes from Donald Trump, at least. So far, Trump endorsed candidates are racking up the victories on the campaign trail. J.D. Vance, author of the notable memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” and backed by the former president, surged late in the race to secure the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in Ohio. There is little doubt Trump still has a commanding influence over Republican voters. His record in races so far this year is 55-0 when picking candidates to endorse (many of those ran unopposed). Still, not every Trump-approved candidate looks poised to deliver big victories, and some of his candidates in North Carolina might face implosion — whether self-induced or from voters. 

Madison Cawthorn v. Chuck Edwards 

Despite a rapid political ascendency, the scandals are piling up around Congressional incumbent Cawthorn. He’s called it a slow drip but it’s more like a waterfall at this point. Will a Trump endorsement save Cawthorn in the 11th Congressional District? He still has a sizeable lead, but Cawthorn fatigue may be setting in as the top challenger, and current state Sen. Chuck Edwards is gaining ground in recent polling. And Edwards’ conservative credentials are as strong as anyone, as his lifetime Civitas Action score attests. Despite all the flaws and scandals surrounding Cawthorn, if he does secure an easy victory, it’s another reminder of Trump’s dominance of North Carolina. 

Bo Hines v. other Republican challengers

Hines is running in a district he’s not from, and some Johnston County Republicans took out an ad objecting to Trump’s endorsement of him. Despite Trump’s popularity in large swaths of Johnston County, DeVan Barbour appears to have a strong grassroots following in the 13th Congressional District. Part of this hunch is based on the number of Barbour yard signs and that I receive a mailer from his campaign almost every day. A February poll showed Kelly Daughtry in the lead in a tight field, but Hines could easily emerge from a crowded grouping given Trump’s endorsement. 

Ted Budd v. Mark Walker and Pat McCrory 

The U.S. Senate race garners the most attention, and Budd appears to be the clear front runner. Recent polls have him leading in a three-man race – with Walker still in single digits. If Budd emerges victorious, his decision to forego primary debates looks smart. A statewide win for Budd would be another big boon for the Trump political train. It’s looking more and more likely.  

In recent years, endorsements mattered Little before Trump

The New York Times has endorsed presidential candidates since 1860. It matters little. Political endorsements have fallen by the wayside of importance in more recent years. In part because of the collapse of trust in institutions and political parties. After all, most Republicans in Washington went out of their way to signal their support for any presidential candidate besides Trump in 2014. 

Yet, in North Carolina and nationally, not all Trump candidates are guaranteed victory. One example is the GOP primary over in Georgia for governor, where the current Gov. Brian Kemp appears to be headed to a sizeable win over Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue. Kemp is likely to avoid a runoff save a cataclysmic shift in the race. 

Despite Trump’s prowess, “all politics is local,” as former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neal liked to remind people. Many GOP primaries, particularly in North Carolina, offer multiple conservative candidates so it’s up to voters to decipher who will best represent their district and interests. 

According to a brand-new Rasmussen poll, 59% of Republican voters said they are more likely to vote for a candidate backed by Trump. 

Save America rally in Selma, N.C. with former President Donald Trump, Rep. Ted Budd, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Rep. Dan Bishop. April 9, 2022. Photo by Tim Robbins, Carolina Journal

Yet, Republicans (as well as Democrats) must pick a candidate who can win a general election. The same poll notes that when Republicans and Democrats are combined, 43% of voters would be less likely to back a Trump-endorsed candidate. The good news for Republicans is that even more voters than that (46%) are less likely to support a Biden-supported candidate. 

Trump, a transformative figure, is a reminder of our broken political culture and the failure of conservative institutions to achieve substantial policy victories. After all, the recent leak pointing to a potential overturning of Roe v. Wade seems unlikely absence the rise of Trump. He fought against the Washington status quo and establishment politics in a manner unlike previous presidents. Yet, it seems plausible – maybe even likely – that Republicans are better equipped to dominate national politics in 2024 with new blood as the party nominee for president. Republican voters may have to make that decision if Trump runs again, so they’d be wise to thoroughly vet those Trump-supported candidates now. It’s hard to imagine more Cawthorn’s won’t prove costly.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and a Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.