A couple of weeks ago, I overheard New York Rep. Dan Donovan chatting with a fellow member on his way into a Republican conference meeting, discussing his nasty primary battle with his predecessor, felonious ex-Rep. Michael Grimm.
“I just need to get more votes than Grimm,” Donovan said.
Astute commentary. On Tuesday night, he did just that: With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Donovan was beating Grimm, 64 percent to 36 percent, for the nomination in New York’s 11th Congressional District, covering all of Staten Island and a sliver of Brooklyn.
The race between these two members, not for the first time in a Republican primary this cycle, was a childish colloquy about which candidate loved President Donald Trump the most.
Grimm, who, much like fellow ex-con Don Blankenship in the West Virginia Senate primary, explained away his recent federal conviction as a matter of persecution by Barack Obama’s Justice Department, pointed to several votes that suggested Donovan wasn’t fully on board with the MAGA agenda.
It’s true that Donovan voted against House Republicans’ repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, the tax reform bill (three times), and a bill to penalize “sanctuary cities.” They were all, however, rather obvious votes for a member from New York City. The health care bill’s assault on Medicaid would have been objectively bad for Staten Island, the tax bill’s revenue-raisers were targeted squarely at high-tax municipalities within high-tax blue states, and penalizing “sanctuary cities” would mean losing federal grant dollars for New York City. The GOP agenda, by design, is geared toward thwarting New York City, which is represented by a dozen Democrats—and Donovan. That’s why Grimm, when he represented the district, often voted against Republican leaders too. Had Grimm been in Congress this term and voted for these items in the “Trump agenda,” it would have been an act of political sadism against his constituents.
But with Grimm, who once threatened to throw a TV reporter over a balcony, it’s all about attitude, and Donovan wasn’t with Trump! Grimm talked like Trump, and presented himself more “authentically” than Donovan, a mild-mannered former district attorney. (We are at the point now where served time on federal charges, and a history of violent threats against reporters, qualifies on a gut level as “authenticity.”)
This led Donovan to resort to stunts beneath the dignity of everyone save those trying to win a Republican primary in 2018. Donovan introduced a bill mandating that every post office in America hang portraits of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. (The bill is titled the “Postal Operations To be Unbiased and Sensible,” or “POTUS,” Act. It has gone nowhere.) Donovan went on the president’s favorite television show, Fox & Friends, to plug it.
Donovan got his wish—a presidential endorsement—in late May. And though Donovan has almost certainly voted for some tax cut or another in his career, he most definitely did not vote for the tax cuts that Trump’s tweet would suggest he did.
So that’s the narrative it came down to: The guy who Trump—and every single entity within the GOP establishment—endorsed, versus the guy who is obviously more “Trumpy” for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on. The Trump-backed establishment snoozer, Luther Strange, lost to the “Trumpy guy,” Roy Moore, in the Alabama Senate race. The Trumpy guy, Don Blankenship, lost in West Virginia to both acceptable Trump-backed establishment snoozers. Tuesday night, the snoozer won again.
Divine what you will. Donovan just got more votes than Grimm. A lot more.
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