Donald J. Trump had cast this year’s primaries as a moment to measure his power, endorsing candidates by the dozen as he sought to maintain an imprint on his party unlike any other past president.
But after the first phase of the primary season concluded on Tuesday, a month in which a quarter of America’s states cast their ballots, the verdict has been clear: Mr. Trump’s aura of untouchability in Republican politics has been punctured.
In more than five years — from when he became president in January 2017 until May 2022 — Mr. Trump had only ever seen voters reject a half-dozen of his choices in Republican primaries. But by the end of this month, that figure had more than doubled, with his biggest defeat coming on Tuesday when Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia thrashed a Trump-backed challenger by more than 50 percentage points. Three other Trump recruits challenging Kemp allies also went down to defeat.
The mounting losses have emboldened Mr. Trump’s rivals inside the party to an extent not seen since early 2016 and increased the chances that, should he run again in 2024, he would face serious competition.
“I think a non-Trump with an organized campaign would have a chance,” said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who advised the first Trump presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump remains broadly popular among Republicans and has a political war chest well north of $100 million. But there has been a less visible sign of slippage: Mr. Trump’s vaunted digital fund-raising machine has begun to slow. An analysis by The New York Times shows that his average daily online contributions have declined every month for the last seven months that federal data is available.
Mr. Trump has gone from raising an average of $324,633 per day in September 2021 on WinRed, the Republican donation-processing portal, to $202,185 in March 2022 — even as he has ramped up his political activities and profile.
Those close to Mr. Trump — and even Republicans who aren’t — caution against misreading the significance of primary losses in which he himself was not on the ballot. Mr. Kemp, for instance, took pains not to say a cross word about the former president to avoid alienating his loyal base.
“To be the man, you have to beat the man,” said Jim Hobart, a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. “And until Trump either bows out of electoral politics, or is beaten by a Republican at the ballot box, his strength remains.”