Vance win in Ohio caps banner day for Trump: ANALYSIS

It was perhaps his best day since leaving the presidency.

May 4, 2022, 12:09 AM

It was a wild Tuesday that felt like a throwback to the daily insanity of the Trump presidency -- a bombshell leak, protests and raw anger, scrambles around incalculable fallout and, as darkness fell, voters rendering judgment in sometimes contradictory ways.

Coming out on top through most though surely not all of it was a man who has found comfort in chaos before: former President Donald Trump. It was a banner day for Trump -- perhaps his best since leaving the presidency -- as he found reason to exult in what would count as a massive campaign promise kept as well a fresh flex of his muscle inside the Republican Party.

Trump weighed in late in the Ohio Senate race, and it paid off. J.D. Vance, who came to fame via "Hillbilly Elegy" and emerged as a Trump critic in 2016, decided to draft behind the former president's rhetoric -- and also his lies about the 2020 election -- and won an endorsement that wound up carrying him to the nomination in a crowded and rowdy field.

Trump will almost certainly suffer losses later in the election cycle -- as soon as next week, perhaps. But timing matters, and a victory in the first high-profile primary capping a 24-hour period that upended the political landscape is as good a start to 2022 that the former president could have hoped for.

Truthfully, even a Vance loss would most likely not have been a repudiation of Trump. The main critique from his rivals centered on him being insufficiently supportive of Trump in the past, with his main opponents using old tweets and quotes to argue that they were worthier heirs to the Trump legacy in Ohio.

PHOTO: J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, speaks during a campaign rally in Newark, Ohio, April 30, 2022.
J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, speaks during a campaign rally in Newark, Ohio, April 30, 2022.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images, FILE

A lower-profile race might count as just as big a victory for Trump. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose was a rare GOP voice calling out the lack of evidence of a stolen election in the immediate aftermath of 2020.

LaRose changed his tune more recently in applauding Trump's focus on "voter fraud" and won a Trump endorsement that secured him re-nomination. He's now the favorite to stay in a job that will give him power over how the 2024 election is run in Ohio.

Elsewhere in Ohio, former Trump aide Max Miller easily won the GOP nomination in the Cleveland/Akron area -- in a redrawn district that opened up after Rep. Anthony Gonzalez voted to impeach Trump and then chose to leave Congress.

PHOTO: Max Miller pumps his fist before speaking at a rallyin Wellington, Ohio, June 26, 2021.
Max Miller pumps his fist before speaking at a rallyin Wellington, Ohio, June 26, 2021.
Tony Dejak/AP, FILE

And in Indiana, Trump endorsed Rep. Greg Pence -- his former vice president's brother -- in a race where Pence had no serious competition. Pence accepted the endorsement and won his party's nomination, in perhaps a message from Trump about who continues to control the GOP.

Bigger than all of that, perhaps, was the signal from a majority of justices on the Supreme Court that they are ready to jettison Roe v. Wade. Trump bragged that electing him in 2016 would mean that Roe v. Wade would be almost "automatically" overturned, and his three selections for the high court built the majority that makes the draft opinion that leaked late Monday possible.

Trump and other Republicans focused their ire on the fact of the leak, suggesting -- without evidence -- that liberals were behind an effort to tarnish the court and a high-profile opinion. But while nothing is final yet, Trump is now close to being able to deliver on a promise that Republican politicians have made for decades.

Trump's record for the night was not without blemishes. Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, cruised to his party's nomination despite a Trump-inspired challenge from former Rep. Mike Renacci that played heavily off of DeWine's early COVID restrictions and criticism Trump lobbed in DeWine's direction.

PHOTO: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, and Ohio first lady Fran DeWine meet with reporters outside of their polling place after voting in Cedarville, Ohio, May 3, 2022.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, and Ohio first lady Fran DeWine meet with reporters outside of their polling place after voting in Cedarville, Ohio, May 3, 2022.
Paul Vernon/AP

Though Trump didn't technically endorse in the race, it was being closely watched by Republicans who favor a fresh path for the GOP. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an ABC News contributor, told ABC that any reading of Ohio's results should reflect at best a "split decision" for Trump since he would have celebrated a DeWine loss.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., used this first big primary night as the occasion to deliver a speech at the Reagan Library in California where he branded Trump as a loser for the GOP.

"We lost the White House, the Senate, the House. We lost governors, and state legislative bodies," Hogan said. "Trump said he would be winning so much we would get tired of winning. Well, I'm tired of our party losing."

The day also brought an unrelated reminder of the massive legal woes still confronting Trump and his orbit. Another judge in New York denied his motion to stay the order that held him in contempt of court for his refusal to respond to a subpoena from the state's attorney general, leaving intact a fine that's supposed to run him $10,000 a day.

Truer judgments of Trump's influence on politics will come later in the cycle. This month alone, his gamble on Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate primary and his backing of a primary challenger against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp could backfire spectacularly.

Of course, backing Vance in Ohio will only look inspired if he is able to defeat his Democratic opponent in a state that trended redder in the Trump years. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, easily won his party's nomination on a day when the revelation of the Supreme Court's leaning on abortion could newly motivate Democratic voters by underscoring the stakes of the election.

PHOTO: Representative Tim Ryan gives remarks in Washington, March 30, 2022.
Representative Tim Ryan gives remarks in Washington, March 30, 2022.
Sipa USA via AP, FILE

"This is a freedom issue for women and family," Ryan told ABC News' Devin Dwyer Tuesday, hours before the polls closed in his state.

For his part, Vance argued the exact opposite, calling the original Roe v. Wade decision a "big mistake" that needs correcting.

"And I think if the Supreme Court overturns it, it will be a big success for the pro-life movement," Vance told ABC News' Rachel Scott Tuesday.

The implications of the first major voting of 2022 and the political earthquake that happened to coincide with that day will take months to play out. But anyone looking for GOP voters to repudiate Trump will have to keep looking a while longer.

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