It’s been relatively quiet in Trump world since his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) confab. Just threats to unseat disloyal Republicans, demands that Republican committees cease using his name for fundraising, several no-brainer endorsements, and a jab at Meghan MarkleMeghan MarkleUK tabloid paid private investigator K for info on Meghan Markle: report Osbourne claims she was ‘set up’ on ‘The Talk,’ but regrets her reaction Trump on possible Meghan 2024 presidential bid: ‘I hope that happens’ MORE (“I know the Queen!”).
Well, quiet for Trump.
But two women bode trouble for Trump in 2022 and could sink his comeback aspirations: Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBorder surge scrambles Senate immigration debate Native groups hope Haaland’s historic confirmation comes with tribal wins The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Split screen: Biden sells stimulus; GOP highlights border MORE (R-Alaska) and Lara TrumpLara TrumpFormer North Carolina chief justice planning Senate run Trump makes appearance at Mar-a-Lago dog rescue fundraiser Wave of Senate retirements puts GOP ranks on defense MORE.
Murkowski is the only Senator facing reelection (and not definitively retiring) who voted to convict Trump. For that Trump has sworn revenge. Already, the Alaskan Republican Party has censured Murkowski, and she is sure to face a primary challenge.
Or is she?
Murkowski has not had the best relations with the Alaska GOP. The only race she has ever lost was the 2010 Republican Senate primary. But Murkowski followed that loss with a victory in the general — as a write-in! To put that in perspective, it was only the second time in U.S. history a write-in won for US Senate.
Murkowski likely won’t have a primary challenge since she likely won’t run as a Republican. She likely will switch to independent and run as a voice for Alaska — a quirky state that elects iconoclasts and the occasional independent. Murkowski is a survivor and has done so by meticulously serving Alaska’s unique federal needs. Her recent vote (over conservative objections) to confirm Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandAmbitious House lawmakers look for promotions Protecting federal lands should be a no-brainer Haaland sworn in wearing traditional Native American skirt, moccasins MORE (D-N.M.) as the first Native American Interior secretary was a clear nod to the large Inuit population in Alaska, for example.
After all his rhetoric, Trump has to go after Murkowski. To not do so is an admission of weakness and defeat. But Trump is an outsider to an insular state. And a rally in Ketchikan where he talks mostly about himself won’t beat Murkowski. Her likely win will be a rebuke to Trump and his power over the GOP.
As difficult as the Murkowski election is, Lara Trump’s potential candidacy for U.S. Senate in North Carolina is worse. A Lara Trump loss would be an abject humiliation. Lara Trump, wife of second son Eric TrumpEric TrumpEric Trump floats turning family’s Florida golf resort into casino: report Trump says ‘no doubt’ Tiger Woods will be back after accident Trump sends well wishes to Tiger Woods after crash MORE, is originally from the Tarheel State and has some decent media experience, giving her more than a little polish.
Her candidacy would be the first test for the Trump name, and it is far from certain it will go well. And if it doesn’t, Donald Trump might not recover.
There is not much decent polling on a Lara Trump candidacy, but what exists is not that great. In a December poll, Lara Trump held a 24 percent to 23 percent lead over possible rival former Gov. Pat McCrory. Announced candidate (and Trump fan) former Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFormer North Carolina chief justice planning Senate run North Carolina GOP condemns Burr for impeachment vote against Trump Madison Cawthorn throws support behind Mark Walker in NC Senate primary MORE trailed both at 7 percent. Meanwhile, the GOP preference for president had Donald Trump at 76 percent.
Now, Lara Trump cannot be expected to equal the former president, but those polling numbers show that over two-thirds of Donald Trump supporters either want to wait and see on Lara Trump or don’t want another Trump. (Statistically speaking we cannot be certain there is 100 percent overlap between Lara Trump and Donald Trump supporters, but it seems a safe bet that the overlap is high.)
It’s hard to see a Trump losing a GOP primary, particularly when that Trump has legitimate local ties. Team Trump may even be able to clear the field of any credible candidates. But, if Lara Trump has a close call, that would be a serious problem.
So, how would Lara Trump do in the general election? North Carolina has been fairly reliable Republican territory, but the trend has been bad for the GOP. Since former President Carter in 1976, North Carolina has voted Democratic only once. The state has elected Republican senators fairly consistently, with only two Democratic one-termers — Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan10 under-the-radar races to watch in November The Hill’s Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (2009 to 2015) and John Edwards (1999 to 2005) — representing the state since 1992.
But Republican margins have narrowed precipitously. Former President George W. Bush won the state twice with more than 56 percent of the vote. Former President Obama won in 2008, with Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyA new era for America’s children? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Obama NOAA leader joins Biden White House in climate role | Study: Climate change could reduce more than 60 countries’ credit ratings | NASA climate official says agency has ‘renewed emphasis’ on practical science applications Haaland to travel to Utah to visit monuments shrunk under Trump MORE (R-Utah) recovering the state in 2012 by just 2 percentage points. Former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden hampered by lack of confirmations Letlow wins Louisiana special House election to replace late husband Number of migrant children in US custody passed 15,000: report MORE did not crack 50 percent in either of his tight victories there.
In the Senate races, retiring Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Biden delivers 100 million shots in 58 days, doses to neighbors Former North Carolina chief justice planning Senate run Conservative group rips Toomey as ‘RINO,’ underscoring GOP’s shift MORE’s margin dropped from over 10 points in 2010 to less than 6 points in 2016. Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisFormer North Carolina chief justice planning Senate run Tillis says small-dollar giving to Democrats ‘same exact thing’ as dark money Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission MORE has two razor-thin wins under his belt — less than 2 points in both 2014 and 2020. Tillis has yet to exceed 50 percent.
In politics, a win is a win — but the trend shows that winning elections for Republicans is now a tough battle.
If Lara Trump is viewed as just a proxy for outsiders rather than a real representative for North Carolina, then she simply cannot win. Her candidacy will not only necessarily be closely associated with Donald Trump, but the former president simply will not be able to control his need to be at the center of things and in control. Lara Trump is going to be running against the Democrats and trying to keep her father-in-law operating within some set of boundaries. Good luck with that.
Donald Trump is all about winning. A winning, infallible mystique is the foundation of his power and grip on the Republican Party. Anything that chips away at that foundation is potentially fatal. Former President Trump’s ability to convince enough Republicans (and himself) that he was the victim of cheating in the 2020 election has saved that mystique for now. But entangling himself with two losing causes poses the greatest current threat to his political power.
Per his usual strategy, Donald Trump just hinted at Lara Trump’s run (“I hear she’s going to run …”), leaving an out if her prospects dim. Faced with a losing campaign, the onus will be on Lara Trump to demur, and Donald Trump can just claim she could have won. As such, a Lara Trump candidacy is no certainty. But for the former president, the cat is out of the bag. Lara Trump not running is still a sign of weakness.
Much has been made of former President Trump’s problem appealing to women. Failing to attract the female vote cost Trump reelection. Two female candidates may well end his political career permanently.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.