Trump endorses Murkowski primary challenger

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

If you haven’t heard the name of Kelly Tshibaka yet, it will likely become more familiar to you over the next year or so. Back in March, the former Alaska State Commissioner of Administration announced that she would be running against Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary next year. Yesterday, Tshibaka received a significant boost to her prospects yesterday when she received the ringing endorsement of former President Donald Trump. His brief comments were quite flattering toward Tshibaka while getting in a few shots at Murkowski as needing “to go.” As you may recall, Murkowski was one of the Republicans who voted to convict Trump during the Democrats’ failed attempt to impeach him for a second time. It seemed fairly obvious that Trump wasn’t going to forget that betrayal and now he claims to be looking forward to going up to Alaska to campaign for her. (Politico)

Former President Donald Trump officially endorsed a Republican challenger to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Friday, escalating his campaign against the longtime GOP senator who voted to convict him following his impeachment trial earlier this year.

Trump backed Kelly Tshibaka, the former state commissioner of administration, in a statement in which he called Murkowski “bad for Alaska.”

“Murkowski has got to go!” Trump said in the statement.

In addition to a verbal endorsement, Donald Trump is still raising a lot of campaign cash outside of the normal GOP channels and he’s not afraid to spend it. If he buys into Tshibaka’s campaign at a serious level, life will get significantly easier in a primary battle that will still be facing some serious headwinds.

Interestingly, the National Republican Senatorial Committee didn’t offer a comment on the endorsement but did point to their previous endorsement of Murkowski in her last race. Conversely, Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, already endorsed Murkowski in April, well after Tshibaka entered the race. This may be shaping up to be a microcosm where the political power and influence of the establishment GOP and Trump’s position as the consummate outsider will be put to the test.

We should keep in mind that Alaska has traditionally been considered a red state, but they have a peculiar breed of conservatives up there. They tend to have a serious libertarian bent and independent or third-party voters regularly decide close statewide elections. That’s one factor that has led to Murkowski failing to carry a majority of the vote in all three of her Senate elections. In fact, in 2010, she actually lost the GOP primary and had to mount a mail-in campaign, which she eventually won. In the 2016 election, Murkowski attracted a lot of libertarian support and endorsements precisely because she didn’t endorse Donald Trump, going on to defeat the actual Libertarian candidate who had sided with Trump.

As I said, Alaskan politics can be complicated. Despite all of the drama I just described, in 2020, Trump carried Alaska over Joe Biden by ten points. That should translate into Trump’s endorsement carrying some weight and a solid boost for Tshibaka. But if the primary race is close, we could still wind up with another three-way general election again. If so, all bets are off.