We return, this jam-packed primary week, to a common theme of 2022: Republicans making their should-be wave election cycle unnecessarily difficult for themselves.
In an environment where President Biden’s approval rating is under 40 percent, the economy is asking “why not both?” to the twin questions of inflation and recession, and three-quarters of the country believe things are heading in the wrong direction, Republicans should be able to win a lousy Senate race in Arizona.
And yet—as we’ve seen in states like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—Republican primary voters aren’t sending their best.
The favored candidate heading into election night in Arizona is Blake Masters, a disciple (and campaign donation beneficiary) of tech billionaire Peter Thiel, with whom he shares the same, tech-libertarian-turned-authoritarian-populist politics faddish among the vanguard Right. He’s an extreme candidate, so not the safest choice to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly. It’s not just election denialism—that’s the price of GOP primary politics these days, and he’s done plenty of it. It’s more that he’s an odd duck, from whose mouth odd things emerge. When asked by an interviewer to pick a “subversive thinker” people should know more about, for example, he mentioned the Unabomber.
Masters, of course, could win the general election. Smallpox would have a decent chance of winning in this environment if it had an ”R” by its name. But in a normal world, the Republicans would have secured success by rallying behind two-term Gov. Doug Ducey. He could’ve entered the race, cleared the primary field, and won the general election by 10 points. Alas, Trump was too mad at him for not overturning the election, and Ducey never entered the race. Same goes for state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who’s looking at a third-place primary finish in this same race after similarly drawing Trump’s ire.
In the governor’s primary race, also in Arizona, the Republican poised for victory is Kari Lake, a former Phoenix local news anchor. Lake, whom Trump has endorsed, was a Democratic donor, drag show regular, and Buddhist until, her former colleagues noted, a steady diet of social media and Fox News sent her down a conspiratorial rabbit hole on stolen election claims and the pandemic. The worst right-wing conspiracy theory you’ve heard recently is likely a centerpiece of Lake’s primary campaign. And yet, barring a come-from-behind upset from the more “establishment”-friendly, wealthy lawyer Karrin Taylor Robson, it’s Lake who will face Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the general election in the fall. It will get expensive.
On to the race for Michigan governor, another swing state job that should be extremely winnable for the Republican Party. But the Michigan Republican gubernatorial primary has been a joke. Two leading early contenders, including the former Detroit police chief, were booted from the ballot because they screwed up signature collection.
A real-estate broker named Ryan Kelley briefly surged in polling after getting arrested for his role on Jan. 6, but has since dropped down. There’s a chiropractor named Garrett Soldano and a bored car dealer named Kevin Rinke on the ballot. But the candidate who appears to have the best chance is the conservative media personality Tudor Dixon, whom Trump recently endorsed, and whom the “establishment” has half-heartedly corralled around as their best chance. Democrats are optimistic about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chances at winning a second term in the fall given the weak competition, and the Cook Political Report recently moved its forecast of the race from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democrat.”
One spot where things do appear to have worked out pretty well for Republicans is in the Missouri Senate race. The only possible way Republicans could have a chance of blowing this race would be if primary voters nominate the disgraced, resigned ex-Gov. Eric Greitens, whose ex-wife came out with gruesome domestic abuse allegations during his Senate primary campaign. Republican primary voters in Missouri definitely thought about it for a while, but a contingent of anti-Greitens donors and operatives dumped millions of dollars in attack ads against Greitens in the last month, dragging his poll numbers down. The nomination now appears to be between Rep. Vicky Hartzler and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, either of whom would likely be elected in the Senate in November. (Late Monday evening, Trump satisfied his desires of both wanting to support the likely winner, and wanting to support the sicko in the race by issuing a cheeky endorsement of “ERIC” without specifying which; the Schmitt and Greitens campaigns both touted their endorsements.)
In terms of primaries for the House, three of the ten House Republicans who voted for Trump to be impeached (the second time) will face primaries.
The race that’s gotten the most attention is in western Michigan, between freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump, and Trump-endorsed whacko John Gibbs. This district is one of the few offensive targets for Democrats in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, though, has tried to elevate Gibbs in the primary by running an ad about how he’s Trump-endorsed and “too conservative” for the district, words that ring Republican primary voters’ bell. The meddling tactic, seen across the country and (especially) in Republican gubernatorial primaries, risks elevating MAGA loons not just into general elections, but into the House of Representatives.
Meijer, in an essay posted Monday, warned that Democrats’ “Democrats’ fingerprints will be on the weapon” if the strategy works and Gibbs defeats him. (He does acknowledge, though, that Republican primary voters would also be to blame for whom they nominate.)
Two of the most interesting Republican votes for Trump’s impeachment came from Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler, both of Washington state. I remember watching them on the floor ahead of the vote, sitting next to each other on the Republican side of the aisle yet physically isolated from their GOP colleagues. What may they have been talking about? Perhaps how their state’s election system inoculated them, to an extent, from the punishment that primary voters were likely to mete out on other such heretics.
Washington has a top-two primary system: Everyone runs in the same primary, and the top-two finishers face against each other in November. If—and this is the big if of the night—Newhouse and Herrera Beutler make it into the top two, and aren’t locked out by a Democrats or a Trump-endorsed MAGA challenger, they’d have the advantage in November. If Newhouse or Herrera Beutler faces a Democrat in November, the right-leaning natures of their districts should carry them to victory. If one of them faces a MAGA Republican in the general, they will win all the district’s Democratic votes and plenty of Republican votes, too.
Another House primary to watch on the Democratic side is in Michigan’s 11th District, where the more moderate Democrat, Rep. Haley Stevens, is facing off against Rep. Andy Levin, whose more progressive. Levin chose to run in this district instead of the 10th, which was made much more Republican in redistricting. Stevens didn’t love him for that. In the closing weeks of the race, though, what’s garnered the most national attention is the millions of dollars American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has spent trying to knock down Levin for having sponsored a two-state solution bill that referred to East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza as “occupied territories.” Levin isn’t the only one facing AIPAC’s wrath: The organization has spent over $20 million trying to knock off progressives in Democratic primaries this year. But it’s worth noting, in this case, that not only is Levin Jewish, he’s from one of the most prominent Jewish political dynasties in America.
Lastly: Kansas. The state will hold a referendum, the first of its kind since Dobbs, to eliminate a state constitutional right to an abortion. If it’s successful, the legislature could soon move to ban abortion entirely in the state. Aside from the very real stakes for Kansans, this will be a good test of where abortion politics stand post-Dobbs, and whether the decision will light enough of a spark among those it has enraged to get them to turn out and vote.