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Trump candidate Susan Wright upset by Jake Ellzey in Texas

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Trump candidate Susan Wright upset by Jake Ellzey in Texas

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump had a bad day on Tuesday. It wasn’t the emotional and heartbreaking testimony of the police officers defending the Capitol from the MAGA mob on Jan. 6 – that was factored in. Instead, Trump backed the bogus candidate in a special Republican-Republican election for Congress in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, a notable humiliation for the former president who had a near-perfect record in the Republican primaries while in the White House.

Trump had given his blessing to Susan Wright, the widow of two-year incumbent Ron Wright, who became the first incumbent member of Congress to die of COVID in February. Wright, whose last vote before his illness was to overturn the 2020 election, represented a traditionally Republican district in suburban Fort Worth that had become more marginal in the Trump era. His death sparked a free-for-all special election in which the top two candidates would rise to a runoff in which Republican Jake Ellzey faced Wright in his first term after the Democrats failed to unite on a single candidate.

Trump’s endorsement apparently made the race sleepy. Wright was the ex-incumbent’s widow and was backed by the country’s most popular Republican, Trump sent out several statements on her behalf, hosted a tele town hall on the eve of the election, and his PAC even made a last-minute ad purchase. What could go wrong?

A lot turns out. Wright ran a lackluster campaign that was derided by other Republicans: she was outraged by Ellzey and relied heavily on outside spending from Club for Growth rather than her own efforts. The Club for Growth waged such a bitter negative campaign against Ellzey that it led several prominent Republicans, including rising star Rep Dan Crenshaw, to show solidarity with him.

Although the two candidates have minimal ideological differences from a national perspective, Trump’s endorsement also made Ellzey the Democratic candidate of choice in the special election, reinforced by text messages from the Republican underdog’s election campaign.

It’s the first time a Trump-backed candidate has lost a Republican primary since Madison Cawthorn defeated Lynda Bennett in North Carolina in June 2020 in a safe red district. Bennett was a close ally of then Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. However, that loss happened when Trump was the leader of the free world with an unprecedented social media megaphone; it was simply registered as an aberration. That defeat happened when Trump became a (somewhat) lesser figure after his election defeat and the conspiracy theories that followed.

The embarrassment is also compounded by the circumstances in which it occurred. It was a low turnout election held in the dog days of summer that gave partisans little cause to appear at the polls, and created a scenario in which just enough malicious Democrats could act as spoilers.

But the argument for Trump’s continued importance in American politics is that he still has a dedicated support base that would crawl over broken glass for him. This may still be true if he’s on the ballot, but if his chosen candidate fails a Republican-Republican runoff election in Texas, it begs the question of how motivated that base is otherwise.

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