Former US President Donald Trump, a Republican, has released a pair of surprise endorsements for the upcoming midterm elections, lavishing praise ahead of the Democratic primaries in New York on two Democratic candidates central to his first impeachment by Congress.
The endorsements represented a stark about-face for Trump, who just days earlier had unleashed a scathing invective against one of the candidates, lawyer Dan Goldman, who was lead counsel in the Democrat-led House impeachment of Trump from 2019 to 2020.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Now, Trump, in a post on his social media site Truth Social on Wednesday, called him “honourable, fair, and highly intelligent”.
He also endorsed Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who is currently leading a House Oversight Committee investigation into Trump’s alleged storing of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, saying she will “never let our conservative movement down”. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the myriad congressional investigations into his conduct as part of a coordinated “witch hunt”.
The endorsements, which many social media users quickly dismissed as “trolling”, appeared to underscore a unique tactic employed heavily ahead of this year’s US primary polls, which are the elections used by political parties in states and territories across the US to select their candidates ahead of federal legislative and presidential, as well as state-level, general elections.
I’m coming for you, Donald. pic.twitter.com/qCxxykBBRJ
— Daniel Goldman (@danielsgoldman) August 17, 2022
Under the approach, instead of party members and affiliated groups only pouring money and endorsements into their own party’s race, they use those tools to seek to influence which candidate is elected by the opposing party. While insincere, the messaging is allowed under free speech and election laws, as long as proper disclosure requirements are met.
Lawyer Goldman swiftly accused Trump of seeking to turn the New York primary on August 23, in which Goldman is running to represent an extremely Democratic-leaning district of New York City in Congress. The winner of this Democratic primary is all but assured to win in the general midterm elections in November, which will determine which party controls the US House of Representatives and US Senate, the two chambers of the US legislature.
“True to form, Trump is trying to meddle in an election,” Goldman, who is widely considered the frontrunner in the race following an endorsement from the New York Times, said in a statement. He called Trump’s nod a “pathetic attempt at fooling Democrats”.
— Yuh-Line Niou (@yuhline) August 17, 2022
Maloney, who is also running in a Democrat-controlled district, also rejected Trump’s endorsement, calling it “laughable” and noting her ongoing investigation into Trump.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said. “I’ll pass”.
Modern US primaries are broadly a result of attempts to give more transparency and access to how a political party – namely the two dominant parties, Democrats and Republicans – chooses its candidate, a process that had previously been left up to small groups of party officials and delegates. However, the current form of primaries varies greatly across the country, depending on state laws and local norms. They represent yet another idiosyncratic process in the country’s notoriously idiosyncratic elections systems.
According to FairVote, an elections nonprofit, primaries generally break down into three categories: open primaries, in which any voter can choose to vote in the primary of whatever party they choose, regardless of their personal party affiliation; closed primaries, in which only registered party members can vote in their party’s primary; and semi-closed primaries, in which those officially registered with a party can only vote in that party’s primary, while those who are not affiliated with a party can vote in any primary.
The 20 states with open primaries are subject to so-called “crossover” voters, according to FairVote.
“For example, if a district routinely elects the Democratic nominee, Republican voters may vote in the Democratic party primary to attempt to influence the outcome,” according to the organisation. “This could be a good-faith attempt to select a more conservative Democratic nominee who would be palatable to the Republican voters, or it could be sabotage, an attempt to nominate a weaker candidate who is easier to defeat in the general election.”
Shocked at the people who think this Trump endorsement nonsense is something other than trolling behavior from a loser former president.
— Eliza Orlins (@elizaorlins) August 17, 2022
Ten states, including New York, have closed primaries, meaning those seeking to influence an opposing party’s primaries must do so through less direct means of influence.
Democrats have banked on such an influence campaign during this primary season, with many political groups and nonprofits seeking to boost the profiles of farther-right Republican candidates they believe will be easier for a Democrat to defeat in the general election.
As of July 15, individuals and groups “aligned” with the Democratic Party had spent nearly $44m on advertising campaigns in support of far-right candidates in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland, according to Open Secrets, an organisation that tracks election spending.
That included Pennsylvania state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, spending $840,000 on TV ads in support of Republican candidate Doug Mastriano, who was at the US Capitol during a riot by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the presidential election results on January 6, 2021, according to Open Secrets.
Mastriano went on to win in the primary election, beating his more moderate Republican challenger. Shapiro has denied he sought to boost Mastriano’s standing.
Some Democratic operatives have warned the approach risks to backfire, with strategist Howard Wolfson telling the Washington Post it was “very dangerous and potentially very risky to elevate” candidates who have embraced Trump’s unfounded claim the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
My opponent Dan Goldman is endorsed by Donald Trump.
Trump says he's backing Goldman because he wants progressives to lose and because Goldman failed to hold him accountable the first time. New York should not send this man to Congress. pic.twitter.com/OfEk9e3GZc
— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) August 17, 2022
It remains to be seen if registered Democrats in New York will view Trump’s endorsement as backhanded, or if his involvement will have a meaningful effect on New York’s primary day.
At least two of Goldman’s opponents, New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and US Congressman Mondaire Jones, have sought to highlight Trump’s endorsement to gain a leg up in the race.
“Donald Trump just endorsed my multi-millionaire opponent,” Niou wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, referring to Goldman, who is the heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, “in case you needed a reminder of what the stakes are”.
She called on voters to “Choose your fighter”.