The state senator who accused Trump of lying about the outcome of the 2020 election, managed to exceed expectations and rise in the polls. It wasn't enough for first or second place.

In finishing third with 23 percent, Dolan provided some clues to the size and composition of a key voting bloc in the next presidential primary, which suggests the Herculean task ahead for GOP institutionalists.

Matt Dolan speaks after a debate.

Matt Dolan, a Republican Ohio state Senator from the 24th district, speaks after a debate in Wilberforce, Ohio, on March 28, 2022. | Paul Vernon, File/AP Photo

Joe Walsh, who challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020, said that it was a "MAGA-MAGA party." Let's assume he didn't. You would have seven to eight candidates, and maybe you would have one Larry Hogan. They are not going to get any traction.

Walsh said that there is no room for that in Ohio. If you are a Trump critic, you won't register.

For anti-Trump Republicans, the best-case scenario was that Trump would fade or not run for president again and a raft of hardliners would rush in to claim his mantle, splitting the base and allowing one establishment-oriented Republican to slip past them.

It is a reversal of what Trump did to the crowd of institutionalists.

Ohio was Exhibit A in how difficult that will be.

It was close to a perfect test case for a credible MAGA alternative, and the family that owns the Major League Baseball franchise was headed in that direction. He was less toxic to base Republicans than a never-Trumper who voted twice for the former president. Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist and former deputy attorney general of Ohio, advised Dolan on a previous campaign.

He spent more than $10 million of his own money on the race, and he had name recognition. Weaver said, "Dolan had the lane largely to himself."

The lane was nowhere near wide enough for a hopeful of the same mold.

Franklin and Cuyahoga are the two most populous counties in Ohio and are home to Columbus and Cleveland. He finished second in Hamilton County. An adviser said that Dolan was unable to run up the score as much as his campaign expected in the urban and suburban areas.

He was blown out all over the place. In some parts of the state, he finished in the single digits.

If you look at the spectrum of support, his highest level of support came from people who are the least supportive of Trump.

There isn't a lot of room in that lane.

Though less successful than John Kasich in the 2016 Ohio presidential primary, Dolan's performance in Ohio was reminiscent of him. Kasich, a vocal Trump critic, performed best in more urban and suburban areas of the state. It was enough for Kasich to win his home state.

It was all over. Kasich won the primary in Ohio. Kasich learned his lesson after Trump became president, that there was no path to the White House for him in 2020.

Even if Trump is no longer the incumbent, the landscape is even bleaker for a Trump-critical Republican. Jeff Sadosky, a former adviser to Rob Portman and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, said that he didn't think Kasich would.

The party has changed and it is difficult to get through a Republican primary if you are anti-Trump.

A Republican strategist in Ohio said that there is a quarter of the party that is ready to move on from Trump.

The strategist asked if that would be enough in 2024. It wasn't enough as of Tuesday. As we get further away from 2020, we may start to get sick.

The strategist said that there is not a lane for like Romney.

This summer, Trump-ism will take a hit. In Georgia and Idaho, two incumbent Republican governors are running ahead of their challengers, and Trump-backed candidates are involved in close contests in other states that could raise questions about the strength of his grip on the party.

In Ohio, Trump's endorsed candidate, Vance, won the primary with only 32% of the vote. Almost 70% of Ohio Republicans ignored or rejected the former president's call to join in his campaign, according to an op-ed written by the Republican strategist Karl Rove.

If the field was larger, it's possible that Dolan would have performed better in Ohio. A candidate could carry early primary states with a small percentage of the vote in a wide-open contest. Trump finished second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but only with a third of the vote. The rest of the party's support might have stopped if the establishment candidates hadn't chopped it up.

Mike Dennehy is a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a former Republican National committeeman.

I don't think you can be successful if there is more than one well-known moderate running, he said in a nod to how limited the universe of non-MAGA voters will be.

Mehmet Oz and Donald Trump speak at a rally.

Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, left, accompanied by former President Donald Trump, speaks at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., on May 6, 2022. | Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo

If Trump doesn't run, the best case is that he doesn't.

It is1-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-65561-6556 Despite rejecting Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen, Dolan avoided significant attacks from opponents. If viewed as a threat, a like-minded presidential candidate in 2024 would likely get a lot of criticism.

In Ohio, Trump used the victory of Vance to set the tone for the rest of the campaign. The Senate candidate Trump is backing in Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz, was brought to Pennsylvania by Trump on Friday for a rally.

In the event that Trump doesn't run himself, Republican voters will likely know which candidate he supports. According to internal polling in the Senate race in Ohio, about 83 percent of voters knew that Trump had endorsed Vance. Among those who voted for him, that number was much higher. In a presidential election with months of nonstop coverage, virtually every Republican will know Trump's pick.

Kevin Madden was a senior adviser to Romney in 2012 and he said that the anti-Trump capacity within the Republican electorate is about 20 percent.

He said that there is an opportunity for a moderate Republican in some states.

Madden said that Trump blocks out the sun.