Republican Jake Ellzey of Texas won a U.S. House seat on Tuesday night over rival backed by Donald Trump, dealing the former president a defeat in a test of his endorsement power since leaving office. Ellzey's come-from-behind victory over Republican Susan Wright, the widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright, in a special congressional election runoff near Dallas is likely to be celebrated by Trump antagonists who have warned against his continued hold on the GOP.
When the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas) passed away, and his widow announced her candidacy, it was widely assumed that Susan Wright would be elected. When she picked up Donald Trump's support, her odds seemed to improve even more.
But Jake Ellzey, a GOP state legislator ahead of his congressional campaign, ran a strong race, and though there wasn't much polling, locals agreed that Wright's advantage was slipping in the contest's closing weeks.
This, naturally, didn't sit well with the former president, who didn't want to get stuck having backed a losing candidate. And so, Team Trump got to work, making a late $100,000 ad buy in the district, recording a robocall from the former president, holding two tele-town-hall events, and issuing written statements imploring locals to rally behind Wright.
She nevertheless lost by more than six points.
At face value, some of Trump's detractors may see this as a point-and-laugh moment. After all, the former president threw his backing to a candidate who lost, which is obviously embarrassing.
But I think it's worse than that. For Trump, the power of his endorsement is supposed to be -- indeed, it must be -- the stuff of legend. He recently commented on the Republicans who beg for in-person meetings, where they plead for his electoral support, marveling at his self-professed power.
"We have had so many, and so many are coming in," Trump said. "It's been pretty amazing. You see the numbers. They need the endorsement. I don't say this in a braggadocious way, but if they don't get the endorsement, they don't win."
Yesterday's results out of Texas' 6th, however, further shatter the myth: some of these Republicans may get the endorsement, but they lose anyway.
If Susan Wright were some kind of extreme outlier, it'd be easier to shrug off the results as they relate to the former president. But she's not: since taking office in early 2017, Trump has backed plenty of candidates -- in primaries and general elections, in blue and red states, in even-numbered years and odd -- who've come up short.
This matters because for Trump, the power of his endorsement is supposed to be among the most powerful arrows in his quiver. Republicans are supposed to tremble in fear at the very idea of losing favor with him, because his all-powerful endorsement is the key to unlocking electoral success.
And the more GOP officials and candidates notice that the myth isn't true, the less they'll feel the need to bend the knee, kiss the ring, and sacrifice their dignity to satisfy the whims of failed former one-term president whose endorsement means less than he likes to admit.