Trump kicks off GOP primary season by siding with incumbents

It was the summer of 2014 and Donald Trump was cultivating his future base by backing a fiery, insurgent conservative challenger who was seeking to oust a longtime incumbent senator in Mississippi’s Republican primary.

“Chris McDaniel looks like he will win in Mississippi - GREAT NEWS and big victory for Tea Party!” Trump tweeted at the time, aligning himself with the anti-establishment conservative outsider who ultimately failed to take out Sen. Thad Cochran.

Four years later, McDaniel is mounting another effort against establishment Republicans in Mississippi. But this time, President Trump isn’t backing McDaniel. He’s supporting GOP Sen. Roger Wicker, the incumbent favored by establishment Republicans in the race.

It’s not just happening in Mississippi. So far this year, Trump, who ran for and won the White House as the ultimate outsider candidate, is tending to back incumbents over challengers in races across the country.

On Tuesday, the president announced his support for a slew of incumbent Republicans ahead of primaries in Texas next week, including Texas land commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former rival Jeb Bush. The president wrote in a tweet that George P. Bush “backed me when it wasn’t the politically correct thing to do, and I back him now.”

Primaries in Texas are scheduled for March 6. George P. Bush has several Republican opponents in his re-election bid for the Texas land commissioner post.


In his tweet, Trump also announced support for Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, calling him “Trump’s Man in Texas.” He also endorsed Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick over their GOP challengers.

In another tweet, Trump backed former presidential primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton in the same state primaries.

The most consequential recent endorsement, though, was his support Tuesday for Wicker, just a day before McDaniel announced his intention to run. McDaniel, with the help of conservative activists from across the country, nearly beat Cochran in the state’s 2014 primary, arguing the incumbent wasn’t sufficiently conservative.

“.@SenatorWicker of Mississippi has been a great supporter and incredible help in getting our massive Tax Cut Bill done and approved,” Trump tweeted. “Also big help on cutting regs. I am with him in his re-election all the way!”

In his campaign kickoff on Wednesday before a crowd of supporters in his hometown of Ellisville, McDaniel tied himself to Trump anyway.


“I’m tired of the way things are being done in Washington. Donald Trump told us he wanted to drain the swamp,” McDaniel said during his announcement. “I’m going to go there to help him drain the swamp.”

McDaniel’s strategy of portraying himself as an ally of Trump’s – even as the president endorsed his rival – is reminiscent of the playbook utilized last year by Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore in the state’s special election.

Even though a number of his high-profile supporters got behind Moore, Trump endorsed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the race. Moore, positioning himself as a warrior for Trump, went on to defeat Strange – even as Trump argued he was not as electable.

The president later claimed to be vindicated in the general election, after past accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Moore, paving the way for Democrat Doug Jones to win the race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old seat.

As his team did during Alabama’s election, Trump’s political organization said he endorsed Wicker because the president has learned he can rely on him to vote for his agenda.

“Senator Wicker was a great supporter of President Trump’s historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is the type of leader the President needs to support his agenda ahead to create more jobs and economic opportunities for all Americans,” said Lara Trump, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign and his daughter-in-law.

In Utah’s Senate race, incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch is retiring. But Trump has thrown his support behind establishment favorite Mitt Romney – with whom he has frequently sparred.

“.@MittRomney has announced he is running for the Senate from the wonderful State of Utah,” Trump tweeted last month. “He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!”

Trump’s endorsements come as he announced plans this week to ramp up his campaign activity, including announcing Brad Parscale as campaign manager for his 2020 re-election campaign.

Trump’s campaign said in a news release it plans on “being an important entity” in the 2018 midterm elections, including supporting and endorsing House and Senate candidates and leveraging Trump’s vast network of supporters nationwide to encourage them to vote.

Fox News’ Willie James Inman contributed to this report.