May 18, 2022 - News

Trump couldn't save Madison Cawthorn

Photo illustration collage of Ted Budd, Bo Hines, Madison Cawthorn, and Donald Trump.

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photos: Allison Joyce/Getty Images, Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump’s support helped propel two Republicans to victory in high-profile primaries Tuesday night. But it wasn’t enough to save a third.

Driving the news: Embattled first-term Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his seat to Chuck Edwards, a state senator who benefitted from the support of North Carolina’s most powerful Republicans, all fed up with Cawthorn and his seemingly endless stream of scandals.

Yes, but: Trump’s bets were successful on Rep. Ted Budd in the U.S. Senate primary and 26-year-old Bo Hines in the 13th Congressional District.

  • The Associated Press declared Budd the victor over former Gov. Pat McCrory just 17 minutes after the polls closed.
  • Hines prevailed over seven other GOP candidates in the 13th district. Still, he only won with 33% of the vote, barely clearing the threshold required to avoid a runoff.

Why it matters: The primary results reveal that Trump’s endorsement, coupled with millions in outside spending, still carries a lot of weight in North Carolina, but it can only take candidates so far.

  • And that North Carolina’s Republican establishment, including U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, still has a lot of sway.

Between the lines: Budd and Hines also benefited in millions in spending on their behalf by conservative political action committee Club for Growth.

What they’re saying: “I think the Trump endorsement alone is worth 30% in a Republican primary, and the candidate either adds to that number or subtracts from it,” said Jim Blaine, one of North Carolina’s top Republican operatives. “They oughta win if it’s worth 30%; even by doing nothing they should get across the finish line.”

Flashback: Trump’s endorsement of Budd last summer helped boost the congressman early in the race against McCrory. Money quickly followed, and groups backing Budd unleashed millions in ads against the former governor.

  • And his backing of Hines, who moved to the district just last month, drove voters to turn out for a candidate whose name they may not have recognized otherwise.

But as Cawthorn’s controversies mounted, Trump stayed mostly silent. And Tillis — who had an on-again, off-again relationship with the former president — proved to be a bigger player in the Cawthorn race.

  • Tillis’ PAC launched a six-figure attack ad campaign against Cawthorn. And the legislative Republican legislative brass — Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore — banded with Tillis to back Edwards.
  • Trump finally broke his public silence Monday, calling on voters to give the 26-year-old a “second chance,” Newsweek reported. The show of support may have come too late to make a difference.

The bigger picture: The Hines and Budd victories are an indicator of the direction of North Carolina’s Republican Party, but Cawthorn’s loss illustrates that a candidate needs more than far-right stances and Trump’s endorsement to win.

  • McCrory, the former governor, expressed disdain for the direction his party is heading in an interview with Axios at the polls Tuesday, before results rolled in.
  • “Hines, Cawthorn and Budd have accomplished nothing and the only thing they got is an endorsement,” McCrory said. “Neither Hines, Cawthorn or Budd have accomplished anything of significance to deserve a promotion or retain their current seat. They’re frankly an embarrassment to our party.”

Go deeper with three big headlines from election night:

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