Trump’s Endorsements: The Governors

The Trump endorsement may be the most powerful endorsement in politics. How are his endorsements shaping the 2022 governors’ races?


Former President Donald Trump has used the power of his endorsement (and when he had it, his Twitter feed) to sway Republican primaries since he was sworn in in 2017. His endorsement has shaped Republican primaries for House, Senate, and governors’ offices across the country. Trump has already issued dozens of endorsements for the 2022 cycle. Who are his candidates? Are they likely to win?

First off, the governors’ races.

How Powerful was Trump’s Endorsement When He Was President?

2020-2021 general elections – 5/6 (83%)

Trump endorsed three victorious incumbents (Jim Justice (WV) and Mike Parson (MO) in the primary, Doug Burgum (ND) in the general) and one open seat nominee (Montana’s Greg Gianforte) who were already heavily favored to win in safe Republican states. He made one endorsement in a competitive race: North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who lost to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper (D) even though Trump won the state. Trump also endorsed Glenn Youngkin, the winner of the 2021 Virginia governor election.

2019 general elections: 1/4* (25%)

2019 was a rough year for Trump-backed gubernatorial candidates. Only Mississippi’s Tate Reeves won his race of all Trump’s endorsees. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) lost to Ky. Atty. General Andy Beshear (D). Trump’s odd double endorsement in Louisiana’s election, backing both Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone in the state’s unique jungle primary, didn’t succeed as both were defeated by incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

2017-2018 general elections: 10/19 (53%)

Trump backed the winners of several contested primaries after they already won their races: Mike Dunleavy (AK), Bill Lee (TN), Kevin Stitt (OK), and Mike DeWine (OH), who won in the general; Bob Stefanowski (CT), Walker Stapleton (CO), Jeff Johnson MN), and Adam Laxalt (NV), who lost. Trump’s pick in the 2017 Va. gubernatorial election, Ed Gillespie, also lost.

2017-2018 primaries: 7/8 (88%)

Trump endorsed seven victorious candidates in contested primaries: Henry McMaster (SC), Brian Kemp (GA), Doug Ducey (AZ), and Ron DeSantis (FL), who won their general elections; John Cox (CA) Kris Kobach (KS), and Bill Schuette (MI), who lost. Trump also backed billionaire Foster Friess in the Wyoming primary, who lost to Wy. Treasurer Mark Gordon (R).

The Trump Record – Governors

Primaries – 7/8 (88%)

General elections – 17/30 (57%)

Trump’s 2022 Candidates

Challengers to Incumbent GOP Governors

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp’s refusal to help Trump overturn the 2020 election earned him Trump’s enmity and a primary challenge from ex-Sen. David Perdue, who lost reelection in an upset to millennial activist Jon Ossoff (D). Trump gave Perdue $500,000 to attack Kemp, but Kemp leads Perdue in the RCP polling average by 9.4 points ahead of the May primary.

Idaho: Trump’s pick, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is running against Gov. Brad Little. McGeachin & Little have feuded throughout their term. Little led McGeachin 59%-18% in a January poll.

Challenger to an Incumbent Democrat

Kansas: State Attorney General Derek Schmidt won Trump’s endorsement in his race against Gov. Laura Kelly (D). Kelly beat Trump’s endorsed candidate – Kris Kobach – in 2018.

Open Seat Races

Arizona: Kari Lake is Trump’s pick in a field that includes state Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson and ex-Rep. Matt Salmon, a past member of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus. Lake, a former local TV anchor, holds a narrow lead over Robson in a recent poll.

Arkansas: Trump’s backing for Sarah Huckabee Sanders cleared the field for his former press secretary. Sanders now has no primary opposition and is a heavy favorite to win in the fall.

Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker (R) decided to forego reelection after polls showed him losing the GOP primary to Trump’s preferred candidate, ex-state Rep. Geoff Diehl. Diehl lost handily to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) in 2018 and faces moderate businessman Chris Doughty in the September GOP primary. Mass. Atty. Gen. Maura Healey (D) is favored to flip the seat.

Maryland: State Del. Dan Cox, backed by Trump, will face off with Kelly Schulz, moderate Gov. Larry Hogan’s pick, in the GOP primary to succeed Hogan. Cox, a Hogan foe, called to impeach the popular Hogan in February, which went nowhere. Both are considered underdogs in deep-blue Maryland, although Maryland has elected a GOP governor in 3 of the last 5 elections.

Nebraska: Agribusiness tycoon Charles Herbster won Trump’s endorsement in the open race to succeed term-limited Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). Ricketts’s preferred candidate is University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. Ricketts has said he “strongly disagree[s] that Charles Herbster is qualified” and believes “Nebraska deserves better.” A GOP state senator and seven other women, substantiated by several witnesses, accused Herbster of groping them at public events. Herbster denied the allegations.

The Safe Bets

Trump has also endorsed six governors who face little primary opposition and are likely to win their general elections without much trouble: Greg Abbott (TX); Mike Dunleavy (AK); Bill Lee (TN); Henry McMaster (SC); Kristi Noem (SD); Kevin Stitt (OK).

Other Races

Trump has yet to endorse in eight contested primaries where the GOP nominee will challenge a Democratic governor: Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin. In Alabama and Ohio GOP governors Kay Ivey and Mike DeWine face primary challenges from self-identified Trump loyalists, but the former president has not endorsed in either race. Oregon and Pennsylvania both feature open-seat races and sprawling GOP primaries. Trump has not backed a candidate in either, although he issued a stinging anti-endorsement against former US Attorney Bill McSwain in Pennsylvania.

The Big Missing Name

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who Trump championed in 2018, has not yet received Trump’s endorsement this cycle. DeSantis is likely to win reelection anyway, but this omission is notable considering the rumored Trump-DeSantis rivalry ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

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© Dominic Moore, 2022