In Georgia, the former president made ousting Mr. Kemp a top priority after the governor refused to help overturn the 2020 election results. Yet Mr. Trump was scarcely consistent: The Kemp challenger he handpicked, former Senator David Perdue, had initially hesitated to question Mr. Biden’s victory in Georgia and only became more vocal about it after entering the governor’s race.
The president’s former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, cautioned Mr. Trump against backing Mr. Perdue and pushed him instead to endorse Vernon Jones, according to people familiar with the conversation. Mr. Bannon argued that Mr. Jones, a former Georgia lawmaker who had been repeatedly accused of abusive behavior toward women, was the stronger candidate nonetheless because Trump supporters viewed Mr. Perdue’s stance on election fraud as inauthentic.
The former president refused to acknowledge recent polling that showed Mr. Perdue was headed for a crushing loss. Even as some polls showed Mr. Kemp ahead by about 30 points, Mr. Trump told Mr. Perdue in a phone call last week that he believed victory was imminent.
“We’ve never lost a race,” Mr. Trump falsely claimed of his record of endorsements, according to a person briefed on the conversation.
As president, Mr. Trump fastidiously tracked his endorsement record and played up each victory as a barometer of his own popularity. White House political aides worked with Republican leaders in Congress and with state officials to compile endorsement briefings to guide Mr. Trump’s decisions and provide guardrails to stop him from acting on some of his impulses.
Since leaving the White House, however, Mr. Trump has maintained a much more limited political infrastructure, and his endorsement process has been less methodical. He has resisted efforts to impose order on his decision making, and solicits advice from a range of informal advisers and aides, many of whom are being paid by candidates hoping to land the former president’s support.
The guiding impulse in Mr. Trump’s endorsements appears to be his determination to remain relevant.
In a meeting earlier this year about a closely contested primary, some advisers suggested that Mr. Trump’s best option might be to stay out of the race. He made clear that wasn’t an option.
“If I do that,” Mr. Trump said, “they’re just going to say they won it without me.”