Advertisement

The party has decided — on Donald Trump

Back in 2016, when former President Donald Trump first ran for president as a Republican, the party establishment resisted his campaign with all its might. Trump did not get his first endorsement from a sitting senator, representative or governor until Feb. 24, 2016 — after he had already won New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Here in 2024, it's a very different story. Republican elected officials up and down the ballot, all across the country, aren't just not resisting Trump — they're actively throwing their support behind him. In fact, Trump has one of the highest levels of institutional support we've ever seen for a non-incumbent presidential candidate. Simply put, candidates with the quantity and quality of Trump's endorsements have never lost their party's nomination.

We at 538 keep track of who various Republican politicians have endorsed for president, and as of the day before the Iowa caucuses, 185 of them had endorsed Trump — including nine governors, 24 senators and 116 U.S. representatives. By comparison, only 22 of them had endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Using a 10-point scale based on the prominence of each endorser (for example, governors are worth 8 points each, while state-legislative leaders are worth only 2 points each), Trump had accrued 660 endorsement points through Sunday, Jan. 14.

Trump is dominating with primary endorsements

Number of 538 endorsement points each active Republican presidential candidate has accrued through Jan. 14, 2024

Candidate

Endorsement Points

Donald Trump

660

-

Ron DeSantis

51

-

Nikki Haley

17

-

538′s endorsement tracker weights endorsements by how high of an office the endorser holds.

Sources: News reports, X

Unlike in 2016, support for Trump started rolling in early this cycle. His first endorsement from someone we were tracking came from U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a famous Trump loyalist, on Nov. 9, 2022 — six days before Trump even officially jumped into the race. Sixteen U.S. representatives, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton followed suit the week he announced his campaign. Things were quiet for a while after that, but starting in late January 2023, Trump endorsements started coming in at a steady clip.

Those endorsements didn't just materialize out of thin air, though. Trump's campaign appears to have carefully coordinated them and released them at opportune times. For instance, Trump's first trip to South Carolina as a candidate on Jan. 28, 2023, was accompanied by the endorsements of three of the state's U.S. representatives, its lieutenant governor and its treasurer. And when Trump visited Waco, Texas, on March 25 for one of the first rallies of his campaign, he rolled out the endorsements of eight of the state's U.S. representatives, its land commissioner and its agriculture commissioner.

The spate of endorsements that got the most attention, though, came in April, when DeSantis visited Washington, D.C., to lay the groundwork for his campaign (he would officially announce the next month). The trip did not go well; DeSantis's meetings with prominent Republican leaders were overshadowed by news that several U.S. representatives from DeSantis's home state were endorsing Trump. Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas even endorsed Trump right after getting out of his meeting with DeSantis. Reportedly, this was no accident. Rolling Stone reported that Trump's team had been planning the endorsement blitzkrieg for more than a month in order to embarrass the Florida governor.

For his part, DeSantis secured 16 endorsements worth 43 points between March and July 2023, a period when he was still considered the main alternative to Trump among the Republican candidates. But since then, 538 has tracked only one endorsement for him, albeit a notable one: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Instead, Trump-shy GOP elites — most notably, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu — have turned to Haley in recent months: Since Dec. 1, she's the only non-Trump candidate who has gotten any endorsement points (12).

But the problem for DeSantis and Haley is simply that there aren't many Trump-shy GOP elites left — or that the ones who are are mostly staying on the sidelines. Meanwhile, only halfway through January, this month has already been Trump's best endorsement month yet. He racked up 135 endorsement points between Jan. 1 and Jan. 14 thanks to major backers such as House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. Marco Rubio.

In the run-up to Iowa, there seemed to be a sense among Republican elected officials that the Trump train was leaving the station — and if they wanted to get on board, now was the time. Trump, of course, is famous for holding political grudges, and someone who endorses him only after he starts running away with the nomination risks being seen as insufficiently loyal to the presumptive leader of the party.

And while Trump doesn't have the nomination locked up yet, history suggests it's just a matter of time. The candidate with the most endorsement points* on the day before the Iowa caucuses has won 11 of the 17 Democratic or Republican presidential nominating contests without an incumbent since 1972. That's a good but not great track record. But when that candidate is also leading in national polls** on the day before the Iowa caucuses — as Trump was — they have won nine out of 12 times. And when that candidate also won Iowa, they have won five out of six times.

Endorsements can predict the primary winner

Leaders in 538 endorsement points and national primary polls on the day before the Iowa caucuses, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, and the eventual nominees, in every Democratic and Republican presidential primary without an incumbent since 1972

Year

Party

Nominee

Endorsement Leader

Polling Leader

Iowa Winner

1972

D

George McGovern

Ed Muskie

Ed Muskie

Ed Muskie

1976

D

Jimmy Carter

Lloyd Bentsen

George Wallace

Jimmy Carter

1980

R

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

George H.W. Bush

1984

D

Walter Mondale

Walter Mondale

Walter Mondale

Walter Mondale

1988

D

Michael Dukakis

Dick Gephardt

Gary Hart

Dick Gephardt

1988

R

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush

Bob Dole

1992

D

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Tom Harkin

1996

R

Bob Dole

Bob Dole

Bob Dole

Bob Dole

2000

D

Al Gore

Al Gore

Al Gore

Al Gore

2000

R

George W. Bush

George W. Bush

George W. Bush

George W. Bush

2004

D

John Kerry

Howard Dean

Howard Dean

John Kerry

2008

D

Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Barack Obama

2008

R

John McCain

John McCain

Rudy Giuliani

Mike Huckabee

2012

R

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

Newt Gingrich

Rick Santorum

2016

D

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

2016

R

Donald Trump

Jeb Bush

Donald Trump

Ted Cruz

2020

D

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Disputed

The endorsement leader is determined using 538′s old endorsement-point scale for 1972-2016 and 538′s current endorsement-point scale for 2020. The polling leader is determined by the average of all national polls completed within 30 days of the Iowa caucuses. If a pollster surveyed the field multiple times during this period, only the most recent poll is included in the average.

Sources: "The Party Decides," news reports, polls, Des Moines Register

But Trump's real, uh, trump card is his sheer volume of endorsements. He doesn't just have the most endorsements; he has an historic number of them. Using a simplified endorsement-point scale — 10 points for governors, 5 for senators, 1 for representatives, 0 for everyone else*** — Trump went into Iowa with 44 percent of all the endorsement points that were possible to get from Republicans. Since 1972, only four presidential candidates have gone into Iowa with a higher share of estimated available endorsement points from their own party.****

Trump has historically high institutional support

Leaders in simplified 538 endorsement points and their share of estimated total endorsement points available on the day before the Iowa caucuses, and whether they won the nomination, in every Democratic and Republican presidential primary without an incumbent since 1972

Year

Party

Endorsement Leader

Est. Share of Avail. Endorsement Points

Won Nomination?

2016

D

Hillary Clinton

77%

2000

R

George W. Bush

69

2000

D

Al Gore

60

1996

R

Bob Dole

55

2024

R

Donald Trump

44

TBD

1988

R

George H.W. Bush

31

2008

D

Hillary Clinton

27

1984

D

Walter Mondale

24

1992

D

Bill Clinton

21

2012

R

Mitt Romney

19

2008

R

John McCain

16

1972

D

Ed Muskie

14

1980

R

Ronald Reagan

13

2020

D

Joe Biden

13

2004

D

Howard Dean

9

1988

D

Dick Gephardt

7

2016

R

Jeb Bush

6

1976

D

Lloyd Bentsen

3

Endorsements from governors are worth 10 points each; endorsements from senators are worth 5 points each; endorsements from representatives are worth 1 point each. The number of senators is as of the Iowa caucuses; the number of representatives is as of the election leading into the Congress during which the relevant Iowa caucuses were held; the number of governors reflects the results of the odd-year elections before the relevant Iowa caucus. Independents who caucus with one party are counted in that party's estimated share of available endorsement points.

Sources: "The Party Decides," DAVE LEIP'S ATLAS OF U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, U.S. Census Bureau, National Governors Association, News reports, X

Small sample size caveats apply, but every candidate so far who has amassed at least 30 percent of the available endorsement points before Iowa has gone on to win the nomination. In other words, it would be unprecedented for Trump to lose the nomination with the kind of institutional backing he has.

For a candidate who started his political career as anathema to the GOP establishment, Trump's dominance in endorsements is a remarkable feat. It reflects how thoroughly he has remade the Republican Party in his image over the intervening eight years: from replacing old-guard Republicans with new ones cut from Trumpian cloth, to convincing institutionalists who remain to support him despite his anti-democratic rhetoric, legal troubles and ideological apostasies. After his refusal to accept his loss in the 2020 elections and the defeat of many of his endorsed candidates in 2022, there was some thought that the Republican establishment would try to eject Trump once and for all; instead, they have embraced him.

Footnotes

*Using our old endorsement-tracker methodology — 10 points for governors, 5 for senators, 1 for representatives, 0 for everyone else — for the 2016 cycle and earlier. This is because we only started collecting endorsements for politicians other than governors, senators and representatives in 2020.

**Based on the average of all national polls completed within 30 days of the Iowa caucuses. If a pollster surveyed the field multiple times during this period, only the most recent poll is included in the average.

***Once again, this is our old endorsement-tracker methodology; we're using it here for an apples-to-apples comparison with cycles prior to 2020.

****The number of senators is as of the Iowa caucuses; the number of representatives is as of the election leading into the Congress during which the relevant Iowa caucuses were held; the number of governors reflects the results of the odd-year elections before the relevant Iowa caucus. Independents who caucus with one party are counted in that party's estimated share of available endorsement points.

The party has decided — on Donald Trump originally appeared on abcnews.go.com