After Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, political commentators noted that he made history as a modern-era non-incumbent by winning the two major early contests: Iowa and New Hampshire. But while it’s obviously true that he’s not the sitting president, is it really fair to call Trump a non-incumbent when it comes to the dynamics of the primary race?

In a sense, Trump has campaigned like an incumbent. He refused to participate in any of the primary debates. He uses some of the visual elements of the presidency, such as a modified version of the presidential seal, in public appearances. And he acts as the leader of his party. After his allies played a role in pressuring Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to resign, Trump is reportedly considering replacing her with someone more loyal to him, possibly even her daughter-in-law, Lara Trump. . As Trump’s preferences and personal brand increasingly dominate the party, and he continues to move toward the nomination, his influence over the Republican Party looks much like what a sitting president could hope to wield.

But thinking about it this way creates very different expectations for the nomination race. As a candidate in an open race, Trump has done very well against a field of highly qualified opponents. But unlike most incumbents, he has attracted plenty of rivals. Nearly half of Iowa caucusgoers chose someone else, and Trump won by 11 percentage points in New Hampshire. These results would be worrying for a sitting president. (Imagine the narratives we would see if Biden faced a field of strong primary competitors who siphoned off more than a third of the votes in early states.) Based on those numbers alone, it may appear that Trump’s rivals managed to get it right. enough to suggest that if the anti-Trump forces in the Republican Party could coordinate, they might have been able to compete with him. But of course, tonight could highlight the reality that that opportunity has passed and, in power or not, Trump is still in charge of the Republican Party.

—Julia Azari, 538 contributor

By Sam