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A demonstrator in a Donald Trump mask stands outside a campaign event held by Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, and the former president in Independence, Ohio.MARK PETERSON/The New York Times News Service

Edward McClelland is the author of Midnight in Vehicle City: General Motors, Flint, and the Strike That Built the Middle Class, and an editor at Chicago magazine.

The night before he won the Republican nomination for governor of Illinois, State Senator Darren Bailey held a rally at the Des Plaines Theatre, a converted opera house just outside Chicago. A hundred or so blue-jeaned Baby Boomers in “Mama Bears for Bailey” and “Let’s Go Brandon” T-shirts clustered in front of the Art Deco stage where Mr. Bailey spoke.

A few days before, Mr. Bailey, who was once kicked off the floor of the state legislature for refusing to wear a mask, had been endorsed by Donald Trump. Mr. Bailey’s campaign was trying to rally anger not just at the incumbent governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who was considered a “tyrant” for shutting down businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, but at establishment Republicans such as Representative Adam Kinzinger, who sat on the Jan. 6 Committee investigating Trump supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Bailey won the primary with 57 per cent of the vote, trouncing a field of moderate Republicans. That did not thrill Jim Edgar, a pro-choice Republican governor of Illinois during the 1990s. Illinois is one of the few Midwestern states with a law protecting abortion rights – and Mr. Bailey has compared abortion to the Holocaust.

“If the party continues its move to the right, we will be a permanent minority party in Illinois,” Mr. Edgar said.

The industrial Midwest gave the presidency to Mr. Trump in 2016, as he won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, four states that twice went for Obama. Then, the industrial Midwest took the presidency back in 2020.

Despite his defeat – which many of his followers question – Mr. Trump’s influence is still strong here. His endorsement was decisive for several Republican primary winners: Tim Michels for governor of Wisconsin, Tudor Dixon for governor of Michigan, J.D. Vance for Ohio Senate, and Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania Senate.

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This is the most important swing region in American politics. It will decide control of the Senate this year, and it will decide the presidency in 2024. Mr. Trump, though, has been choosing candidates loyal to Mr. Trump and Trumpism over candidates who appeal to Midwesterners’ moderate impulses.

The primaries proved that Mr. Trump is still the most influential figure in the Republican Party, but his insistence on backing local versions of himself will hurt the Republicans in the midterm elections, which normally favour the party that doesn’t control the White House.

Many of Mr. Trump’s candidates are political novices who made their names as media personalities – like Mr. Trump himself, before he won the presidency. Michigan’s Ms. Dixon was a commentator on Real America’s Voice, a conservative website on which she spoke in favour of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Ms. Dixon is trailing incumbent Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer by eight points.

Mr. Trump is “more interested in candidates who will kiss his ring and tell him he won the election” than candidates who might make a strong showing statewide, said Susan Demas, editor of the liberal news site Michigan Advance.

The only Trump-backed candidate who appears to have a chance of winning in Michigan is John James. In 2020, Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. James in his challenge to Senator Gary Peters. Mr. James lost that Senate race but is now running for the House of Representatives in a conservative suburban Detroit district. Also hurting the Republican ticket: a Michigan ballot initiative to make abortion a constitutional right is expected to win big time.

Michigan is “a purple state” that could vote Republican or Democratic in 2024, said Ms. Demas, but not if the Republican is Mr. Trump.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” she said. “I don’t think he delivered very much for people. By 2020, people were really tired of the drama. Auto jobs did not come back. The tariffs did not really help with industry. People were not really happy with how he handled the pandemic.”

One state to the south, in Ohio, the prospects for Mr. Trump’s candidate look a lot better. J.D. Vance, a Yale-educated venture capitalist who wrote the bestselling book Hillbilly Elegy, once called himself a “Never Trumper” who said the candidate could become “America’s Hitler.”

After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Vance changed his mind, embracing the president as the only politician who respected the “forgotten” rural white working class he’d written about in his memoir.

“J.D. is kissing my ass he wants my support so bad,” Mr. Trump crowed at a September rally for Mr. Vance.

Mr. Trump’s support allowed Mr. Vance to defeat a state senator and a former state treasurer in the Republican primary, and it will probably help him defeat U.S. Representative Tim Ryan in November, said Mark Weaver, a Republican political consultant in Ohio.

“Ohio’s a lot like America,” Mr. Weaver said. “The Trump voters in Ohio are like Trump voters everywhere. People are seeing Trump as a brand, not a person. They want to know if candidates support what Trump supports – if they’re going to rail against the ‘elites.’”

Unlike Illinois, which is a blue state, and Michigan, which is purple, Ohio is a red state. Ohio voted for Mr. Trump by eight points in 2020 – a bigger margin than he won by in Texas or Florida. (That ended Ohio’s bellwether streak of going with the winner in 14 consecutive presidential elections.) So Mr. Vance has a natural partisan advantage going for him.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, host of the Oprah Winfrey-produced Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Oz, who has been parodied as a carpetbagger from New Jersey and a crudité-eating elitist, was one of the Trump endorsees Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was talking about when he complained that “candidate quality” could cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Now, though, the race looks like a potential Republican win, because Dr. Oz’s opponent, Lieutenant-Governor John Fetterman, suffered a debilitating stroke, and as a result, delivered a halting, confused performance in the campaign’s only debate.

The candidacies of Mr. Bailey, Mr. Michels, Ms. Dixon, Mr. Vance and Dr. Oz are all tests of whether Trumpism is still appealing in the industrial Midwest, or whether his success there was a one-off event that had more to do with dissatisfaction toward Hillary Clinton than his own popularity.

Mr. Vance looks like the only sure thing. If several of Mr. Trump’s candidates win, it may be a good sign for Republicans in 2024 – but not necessarily for Mr. Trump.

He started a movement, a reordering of American politics that has made the white working class the most loyal Republican constituency. Mr. Trump is still Trumpism’s leading figure, but it’s a movement that can go out without him, much as that would wound its founder’s ego.

“Voters are not over Trumpism, but they’re over Trump,” Mr. Weaver said. “You know who’s doing the Trump thing better than Trump? [Florida Governor] Ron DeSantis. Starting Nov. 9, all eyes are on him.”

The Republican Party may move on from Mr. Trump in 2024. If he runs for president again, he will certainly have challengers who argue that a candidate who twice lost the popular vote does not deserve a third chance. In Middle America in 2022, though, no Republican’s support is more important.