Another round of Republican primaries has come and gone — this time in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. There were dozens of state and local races across these states. Many were taken by known incumbents to the surprise of none, but the Trumpist hordes made their presence known as the “Race to Disgrace” continues apace. Trump’s candidates may not have achieved all they sought, but they left footprints all over the map. Note: Many final results are still not in as of this writing.
With the January 6 committee hearings looming this week, a number of the 35 Republicans who voted to approve the January 6 committee and its investigation found themselves under fire because of that support. Mississippi Rep. Michael Guest, who voted for the commission, is currently trailing opponent Michael Cassidy, and neither appears close to achieving the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. In South Dakota, Rep. Rusty Johnson — another Republican supporter of the commission — barely won his race against Taffy Howard, but did not crack 60 percent.
This will continue to be an issue for GOP primary voters as the races go on, but it will not be the only issue. Last month in West Virginia, Rep. David B. McKinley was defeated by Alex Mooney after Mooney attacked McKinley for supporting President Biden’s infrastructure bill. Even the slightest deviation from purity, no matter how small or how necessary, continues to be perilous for Republicans.
Montana got a whole new seat thanks to population growth, and former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is running for it. Most assumed it would be his in a walk, but the race remains too close to call after his opponents spent the campaign highlighting the myriad ethics scandals Zinke was embroiled in at Interior. One of his opponents, Al “Doc” Olszewski, smeared Zinke as a “liberal insider,” which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the current ideological state of the GOP.
It was not all Trumpian nonsense, to be sure. In South Dakota, an attempt to thwart Medicaid expansion was beaten back soundly. As of this morning, expansion was winning by a margin of 67 to 33. If these numbers hold, South Dakota will become the 39th state to expand Medicare.
Where it was Trump, however, it was all Trump… and as of this writing, being on Trump’s shit list did far less damage than some anticipated. Sen. John Thune, who has been despised by Trump ever since Thune said Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election would “go down like a shot dog,” easily crushed his opposition in South Dakota.
“In Iowa, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks ran unopposed,” reports Politico. “And in New Jersey, where Trump once sought to encourage a primary challenge to Rep. Chris Smith, the veteran incumbent beat back a challenge from Mike Crispi, a Republican podcast host backed by Roger Stone. (One inspired headline from the state on Tuesday night read in part, ‘Crispi creamed by Smith.’)”
While none of this can be called definitive, each passing primary Tuesday seems to underscore the sense that bucking the Trump trend is no longer the lethal act it was once perceived to be. While no one is remotely ready to declare Trump “over” — he retains a huge campaign war chest and remains the GOP frontrunner for the ’24 nomination, though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is making a case to be heir-apparent whether Trump likes it or not — it is no longer automatic doom for a Republican candidate to run away from him. This will not stop the pro-Trump candidates from trying, and in a number of places, succeeding.
The failure of some of these pro-Trump candidates is a boon for those who enjoy a good dose of schadenfreude at the former president’s expense. For congressional Democrats, however, those failures represent a serious long-term headache. By now, a multitude of analysts are predicting a red wave in November and a massive Democratic wipeout. One of the only things that may save the Democrats from this fate is if GOP primary voters select a slate of wild-eyed, can’t-win candidates backed by Trump. To date, this has not fully materialized, which leaves Democrats facing a cohort of far stronger opponents.
Still, the seeds of mayhem remain buried deep. If history is any guide, Trump will not long tolerate the good numbers DeSantis has been showing, which makes for one flashpoint. Word out of Mar-a-Lago says Trump is “bored” and may announce his 2024 candidacy as soon as July 4. A number of his advisers are apparently begging him to hold off until the midterms are over, but Trump is Trump, and there are others in his ear whispering, “Now, boss, now.”
If Trump does announce, he will immediately return to the center of conversation, which will have a dynamic effect on many upcoming primary races. He may not be all that he once was within the Republican Party, but even a half-sized bull in a china shop is still going to break some plates.
Author’s note: Conspicuously absent from this article is any mention of California. This was not an oversight; journalist Sasha Abramsky worked up a fantastic, if somewhat dispiriting piece for Truthout covering the primary doings in that state. You can read it here.