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Analysis: Trump’s voice is still very much being heard

But the former President’s influence is currently having a resurgence.

Candidates he had not endorsed are still swearing fealty to him.

The Reagan-era Republican primary election commandment that “thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” has twisted into “thou shalt not speak ill of Trump.”

And he may soon get an important bullhorn back: The mute button placed on him by Twitter may be lifted.

Unbanning Trump on Twitter

Whether Trump would return to Twitter is an open question. He’s said he will focus on his own startup social media company, Truth Social.

But with more than 80 million followers on Twitter, I’m willing to bet he starts tweeting soon after free-speech absolutist Elon Musk takes over. Musk said he would restore the former President’s banned account on Twitter if the acquisition deal is completed.

“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice; it will amplify it among the right, and this is why it’s morally wrong and flat-out stupid,” Musk said at an event on Tuesday.

Trump’s voice is heard in Republican primaries

Trump-backed candidates have mostly won. He primarily backs safe incumbents, but in close races, he has picked the winner.

In Ohio, where Republican Senate primary candidates were falling over themselves to praise Trump, it was Trump-backed J.D. Vance, the former Trump critic turned Trump evangelist, who won the primary on May 3.

In West Virginia on Tuesday, where redistricting forced two Republican incumbents into a primary face-off, it was Trump’s pick — Rep. Alex Mooney, who had voted to overturn the 2020 electoral votes — who won the primary against Rep. David McKinley, who got support from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Where Trump lost

Trump’s power in the primaries suggests there’s another old political adage — the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local” — that’s being challenged. CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica argue that in Nebraska, it’s still local.

A Trump critic, Rep. David Bacon in Nebraska, won his GOP primary. While Trump had publicly criticized Bacon, the former President strategically stayed out of that race by not giving an endorsement. His preferred candidate did lose the Republican primary for Nebraska governor, Trump’s first real loss of the primary season.

From the CNN report:

In one of the most expensive and vicious political campaigns in recent Nebraska memory, it was the endorsement from (Nebraska Gov. Pete) Ricketts that mattered most. Ricketts not only supported (Jim) Pillen and guided his campaign from the start, he also invested millions of his own money to defeat (Charles) Herbster.

Trump implored voters to ignore sexual misconduct allegations against Herbster, saying the claims from eight women were “malicious.” At a rally on May 1, Trump declared, “He’s been badly maligned and it’s a shame. That’s why I came out here.”

What have we learned about Trump’s power in the GOP?

I asked CNN Political Director David Chalian how he’s assessed Trump’s performance in the primaries so far.

He pointed to Trump’s 2-1 endorsement record in the highest-profile Republican primaries so far. But Chalian said in an email that it’s also important to look at the candidates Trump didn’t endorse:

Most Republican candidates — running with or without the former President’s backing — are running campaigns that align themselves with Trump and his MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement. That means that irrespective of his endorsement win/loss record, Trump is still very much dictating the playing field and the rules of the game inside these Republican primaries.

He still faces some major upcoming tests about the power of his endorsement in places like Pennsylvania (on May 17), Georgia (on May 24) and Wyoming (on August 16) — but the fact is that today’s Republican Party is still very much a party crafted in his image.

MAGA is now bigger than Trump

The Senate race in Pennsylvania proves Chalian’s point. Trump has backed the celebrity doctor and former TV host Mehmet Oz in a hotly contested three-way race.

While Oz has name recognition and fame that Trump respects, he’s not the most MAGA candidate in the race. Merica writes in a separate CNN story that Trump’s endorsement of Oz cleared a path to the right of Oz for Kathy Barnette:

“MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” Barnette said at a recent debate to explain why she had not received the former President’s endorsement. “Although he coined the word, MAGA actually belongs to the people. Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”

More tests on the horizon

In particular, Georgia’s governor race will test Trump’s power.

Brian Kemp is the incumbent Republican, who Trump has attacked for failing to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump has endorsed former Sen. David Perdue, who will have a tough time unseating Kemp — and several other former or current Republican governors, including Ricketts from Nebraska, are uniting in an effort to help campaign for Kemp.

A moment of accountability may be coming

A prime-time event sure to trigger Trump believers will come in about a month, when the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection holds hearings based on evidence it has gathered.

The committee is still finalizing its witness list, but CNN is reporting that the hearings will be divided into topics, including what Trump was doing as the riot unfolded, the pushing of baseless election fraud claims that motivated rioters, how law enforcement responded to the attack, and the organizing and financing behind the January 6 rallies.

It’s hard to imagine those hearings having much of an effect in the GOP primaries later this summer, since the party has almost entirely rejected the House committee. But they will be important moments for Americans to consider what happened during the last election before taking part in the next one.

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