It’s unusual for a candidate to come out to his election night party during the early portion of vote-counting to gab with reporters about how badly he’s doing. But Don Blankenship is unusual.
“The news so far is not very good,” Blankenship said, according to reporters in attendance, while about 20 percent of the vote was in, showing him in third place in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination in West Virginia. “At this point it’s not nearly what I hoped it would be.”
Despite panic among national Republicans that Blankenship was surging in support in the days leading up to the West Virginia primary, his campaign fizzled on Tuesday. He will not be the Republican nominee challenging Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
“Perhaps President Trump has been successful,” Blankenship said, in reference to the president’s tweet on Monday urging West Virginia Republicans to support either West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey or Rep. Evan Jenkins. Blankenship would later tell a New York Times reporter that he felt Trump’s tweet cost him 10 points, saying that “when you’re 84 percent positive like Trump is, it can be big.” Former Alabama Sen. Luther Strange might be scratching his head at that one.
Blankenship eventually finished third, with about 20 percent of the vote—well behind Morrisey, who won about 35 percent of the vote.
One can already hear Senate Republicans screaming in celebration that they successfully avoided nominating a cartoon character this go-around in a state that Trump won by 40 points. Though Morrisey, the winner, endured some lasting blows in his scorching campaign against Jenkins, and wasn’t the establishment’s top preference—that honor belonged to Jenkins—the GOP has ensured that a legitimate politician who has never had 29 coal miners die under his watch as a CEO will be the party’s nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—whom Blankenship labeled “Cocaine Mitch” and whose wife’s family Blankenship attacked with racist conspiracies—will be pleased, in his own way. His social media team certainly is.
As will be the senators who won’t have to answer questions on Wednesday about whether they support Blankenship’s candidacy. A quick survey of Republican senators on Tuesday indicated that they weren’t eager to rally to Blankenship’s side.
“That’s a hypothetical,” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, said, briefly, before elevator doors closed.
“I’d have a hard time with that,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said. “He’s not my favorite person.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, knee-deep in farm bill negotiations, claimed he hadn’t heard about Blankenship.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he told reporters. “I’ve got enough problems without trying to figure out who I’m for in West Virginia.”
Only Georgia Sen. David Perdue seemed fine with Blankenship winning, were it to happen, even if it wasn’t his first choice.
“Even that guy, if he espouses the beliefs that we stand for, will be better than what we’ve been getting,” he told reporters. “Because what we’ve been getting [with Manchin] is basically lined up with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That’s not in line with the people of West Virginia.” He said he wasn’t worried about whether McConnell would be able to patch things up with Blankenship, either. “Sen. McConnell was called a liar on the floor of the United States Senate by a sitting senator, remember that? Three years ago.” He was referring to an incident involving Sen. Ted Cruz. (Among senators, being called a name on the Senate floor is a far greater affront than having your wife attacked with racist nonsense.)
“Look at what Sen. McConnell did: He rose above it,” Perdue said. “He’s dealt with that individual, and they’ve moved on.”
Now McConnell won’t have to rise above anything with Blankenship, who will be returning in defeat to his Las Vegas mansion to lay by his infinity pool instead of going to Washington. (After a brief sojourn to Paris, of course. The man is an enigma.) McConnell won’t have to share any thoughts with the press about how he and the party intend to deal with Blankenship on Wednesday, as he said that he would in the event of a Blankenship win.
And yet a charmless, racist ex-con coal baron, whose presence in any given room noticeably lowers its temperature, winning more than 20 percent of the primary vote in a must-win contest is still not an excellent sign of health for the majority party. The GOP is struggling to convince Republican primary voters that their existing emissaries to Washington deserve promotions for the bang-up job they’ve been doing. Two Republican congressmen went down in Indiana’s Senate primary, and Jenkins couldn’t pull it off in West Virginia. (Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, at least, was able to win his Senate primary against soft opposition.)
Despite a decent slew of accomplishments for members to run on—from tax cuts to deregulation to judges to repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, along with a strong economy—much of the Republican base seems just as mad at their elected officials in Washington as they were during the Obama years.
South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, earlier on Tuesday, wouldn’t say whether he would support Blankenship if he won, and seemed queasy just thinking about it. “Most of us are simply hoping that we don’t have to face that particular choice,” he told reporters. But there’s a “bigger problem” that they still have to reckon with.
“Washington D.C. is broken, and most of America understands that,” he said. “Most Americans will say, ‘I see $20-plus trillion in debt. I see trillion dollar deficits on the horizon, and I don’t see the plan for fixing that problem.’ When we don’t do a good job of expressing how we’re going to fix that … the American people get frustrated and have a tendency to send people who break things.”
It just didn’t work out for the breaker this time. To Paris!
Support our journalism
Help us continue covering the news and issues important to you—and get ad-free podcasts and bonus segments, members-only content, and other great benefits.Join Slate Plus