Trump’s win-loss record is far worse than he lets on


He lost the first major political competition in which Donald Trump participated.

That was the Iowa Republican caucus of 2016, the first time voters were able to weigh the crowded field of Republican nominees for the party’s presidential nomination. And Trump, despite leading the polls, finished second ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — and just ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Trump soon accused Cruz of cheating, a now well-known response to a Trump loss. But he bounced back quickly, easily winning the New Hampshire primary and then beginning to rack up enough primary and congressional wins to secure the nomination. Eventually he won the presidency.

As president and party leader, Trump regularly boasted about his track record. That reputation – fostered more by willpower than available evidence – has been severely damaged since 2016, particularly after this month’s midterm elections. It also depends heavily on Trump offering support in elections his party would almost certainly win anyway.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

Here’s Trump’s win-loss record, evaluated year-on-year since the 2016 Iowa rallies:

Republican primary 2016. In 2016, Trump gained more support in 39 of the 54 contested nomination fights, according to a review of the year’s results. That includes nine wins after he rounded out the nomination with a win in the Indiana primary.

Federal election 2016. Trump won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton but lost the popular vote by 2.9 million ballots. Republicans also lost their majority in the House of Representatives by six votes and lost two Senate seats.

Elections 2017. Ballotpedia has an excellent overview of Trump’s endorsements by year. In 2017, for example, it documents seven primary and general election confirmations, with Trump winning four (all general elections).

In this off-year, there weren’t many opportunities for Trump to get involved, meaning he had less opportunity to cushion his losses by confirming incumbents who were expected to roll to victory. That changed in the following year.

Elections 2018. Trump made more than 130 recommendations in 2018, including both primaries and general elections for some candidates. Most of his supported primary candidates won (35 out of 37), but his candidates won just over half their fights in the general election (56 out of 95). These include, for example, six state-level candidates in Texas and several almost certain candidates for governor in the red states.

Nationally, his party was battered, losing more than 40 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans won two Senate seats on a cheap ticket (taking seats Democrats won in the 2012 presidential cycle), which Trump used as a testament to his effectiveness as party leader.

Elections 2019. Another year of relatively few competitions left Trump with another mediocre record. Four of his five primary endorsements were successful, as were six of his nine in the general election.

Elections 2020. The Republican Party has been confident in edging out challengers to Trump in the 2020 party primaries, making an evaluation of those contests about as useful as analyzing the vote numbers for Kim Jong Un’s recent reelection bid.

He made more than 300 referrals in primaries and campaigns, with his lead candidates winning 117 of the 121 identified by Ballotpedia. In the parliamentary elections, his candidates won 142 out of 182. These victories were compounded by the support of numerous incumbents; more than half of his victories have been incumbents who won primaries and then retained their positions.

The marquee race that year was his own, of course, with Trump once again losing the popular vote as he also lagged behind in the electoral college. His party also lost control of the Senate but gained 14 seats in the House of Representatives.

Elections 2021. Trump has made relatively few recommendations over the past year, according to Ballotpedia. His three primary confirmations have been successful, while two of his three general elections have prevailed.

Elections 2022. Looking ahead to announcing his candidacy for the 2024 presidential nomination, Trump made nearly 500 recommendations in the last cycle. Most were successful thanks to a series of recommendations aimed at increasing his total. (His endorsement of Doug Mastriano’s run for governor of Pennsylvania, for example, came only after it was clear that Mastriano would win—and since it seemed possible that his supported Senate nominee, Mehmet Oz, would not make it general.) Overall, Trump’s nominees won 224 of 241 primary elections and 208 of 254 general elections.

Ballotpedia also broke out key battleground races for 2022, contests in which Trump didn’t simply rubber-stamp the likely Republican winner. In those, they estimate, Trump’s nominee won in just 14 out of 37 general election campaigns (although the results are incomplete and await other elections). This includes the loss of Oz in Pennsylvania.

Overall, Trump’s party underperformed and failed to retake the Senate while narrowly winning a majority in the House of Representatives. It’s been a surprisingly good year for Democrats given how midterm elections typically go for a new president’s party.

Even with the inflationary effects of gimme races (like supporting incumbent Red State candidates), Trump’s backed candidates (including Trump himself) have won about three-quarters of their races. He came well below that level in tight races in 2022 – and indeed he may have injured some of those he advocated. Research released after the 2018 midterms found Trump dragging down candidates he supported, with rallies on their behalf effectively prompting Democrats to step up their game. He may actually have helped Republicans lose more than a dozen House seats this year.

So Trump’s position in the Republican Party could be the worst imaginable: very effective at getting his candidates to win primaries by talking to his base – but ineffective at getting those candidates to win in November. Its base makes up a sizable portion of the GOP, yes, but a much smaller portion of the electorate. His polarizing effect on the primary electorate helps Republicans who side with him, but his overall polarizing effect likely often hurts his candidates.

Of course, this is not acceptable to Trump, which is why he published a new statement on the midterms on Monday morning.

As examples of cherry picking, Trump claims that what cost Republicans 2022 victories was not enough for him. head, he wins; Pay, his opponents lose.

Of course, had tight contests actually come down to a coin toss in 2022, Ballotpedia’s data suggests the party would have done better than it did with Trump’s endorsements.