Trump’s Drag on Republicans Quantified: A Five-Point Penalty

Donald J. Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he would run for president in 2024 came at an especially awkward time for Republicans. They were supposed to dominate the midterm elections — but fell well short.

Mr. Trump appears to be a significant reason for that showing, based on an analysis of the results by House district.

His preferred candidates underperformed last week, helping Democrats hold the Senate and helping keep the race for House control close. (Republicans, who had been heavy favorites, are expected to prevail narrowly as mail ballots continue to be counted in California.)

Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points.

A penalty of five points is a big number in today’s polarized era. Five of the last six presidential elections have been decided by a margin less than that. As findings like these are revealed, they may add to the consternation of some Republicans who in recent days have blamed Mr. Trump for the party’s poor performance.

The analysis is based on an unusual measure: The Cook Political Report’s primary scoreboard. The Cook report scored each contested Republican primary as a victory for either the “traditional” wing of the Republican Party or for the “MAGA” wing of the party.

With the benefit of the final results, we can gauge how well the MAGA candidates fared compared with other Republicans. The five-point penalty measure controls for how the district voted in 2020 and whether the district was an open seat or held by a Democratic or Republican incumbent.

Here’s another way to think about it: Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.

And many prominent MAGA Republicans ran even further behind recent Republican benchmarks. Lauren Boebert ran eight points behind Mr. Trump’s performance — she’s expected to hold her seat in Colorado’s Third District, but the race has still not been called — and therefore something like 14 points behind the typical Republican. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who held her House seat, ran six points behind.

The Republican candidates who unseated the incumbents who had voted to impeach President Trump — in districts like Washington’s Third and Michigan’s Third — also seemed to pay a steep price.

The analysis includes only House races, but a five-point MAGA penalty looks about right in the Senate as well. On paper, Republican Senate candidates ought to have been fairly competitive in Arizona and Pennsylvania. What did Blake Masters and Dr. Mehmet Oz lose by instead? Four to five points.

In Georgia, the Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker underperformed Gov. Brian Kemp by eight points. Not all eight of those points can necessarily be attributed to the MAGA penalty. Mr. Kemp was an incumbent; Mr. Walker was a challenger. Still, it’s a weak performance by a candidate endorsed by Mr. Trump.

With the results in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania all within the margin of one MAGA penalty, it’s entirely plausible that Mr. Trump’s candidates cost the Republicans control of the Senate.


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