Donald Trump’s sway over the Republican party continues. On Tuesday, Republicans again paid heed to the ex-president’s endorsements even as they declined to march in lockstep. Flecks of daylight emerged across the primary battlegrounds. Still, Trump has little to worry about. His fantastical claim that the 2020 election was stolen is firmly entrenched as Republican Gospel.
In North Carolina, Representative Ted Budd received Trump’s seal of approval, and won the Republican nod for US senator with nearly 60% of the vote. Budd was a Trump loyalist when it counted most.
In January 2021, the congressman sided with the majority of his House Republican colleagues. He voted to deprive Joe Biden of his win. Before Budd received Trump’s endorsement, he had been trailing – just like JD Vance in Ohio.
Over in Pennsylvania, Trump is the reason that Mehmet Oz is still standing. Right now, “Dr Oz” holds a 0.2% lead over David McCormick, a hedge fund titan who Trump savaged as a China-loving globalist. Fewer than 2,700 votes separate the pair. Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator with a murky résumé and described by Trump as unelectable, has third place, all to herself.
The race has not yet been called. A recount is almost certain. If Oz loses, he can blame Barnette, who exposed him as a latecomer to the Maga-verse. Once upon a time, the doctor was a Harvard-educated, pro-choice physician who served in Turkey’s army. America First, not so much.
To be sure, Oz is an acquired taste who suffered from a popularity deficit heading into the primary. Among Republicans, his favorability stood underwater, 37%–48%.
Significantly, Oz led among those who cast their ballots on primary day itself, as opposed to early voters. At the beginning of the evening, McCormick actually held a double-digit lead thanks to mail-in ballots, an advantage which evaporated as the night wore on.
Beyond that, Oz showed particular strength in Trump’s Pennsylvania strongholds. To illustrate, he ran well in Luzerne county, a so-called “pivot county”. Nestled in the north-east part of the state, Luzerne went for Barack Obama by five points in 2012.
Four years later, Luzerne delivered a nearly 20% margin to Trump, and with it the Keystone state. On Tuesday, Oz captured 41% of Luzerne’s Republican primary vote, and ran ahead of McCormick there by better than 10 points.
The falcon heard the call of the falconer. Elsewhere, not so much. Oz failed to win the counties in and around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Out west, in Idaho, Brad Little, the incumbent Republican governor, beat back a challenge from Janice McGeachin, Idaho’s Trump-endorsed lieutenant governor, and a favorite of the far right.
On the issues, McGeachin managed to surpass Little’s hostility toward mask mandates. She also advocated increased in-state production of weapons and ammunition, and delivered a video address to the America First Political Action Conference.
Some perspective is in order. Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist, organized the conference. McGeachin wore it as a badge of pride.
Significantly, Idaho’s outcome stands as a harbinger for the upcoming Georgia governor’s race. Brian Kemp, the incumbent, faces a challenge from David Perdue, a former US senator who is Trump’s designated attack dog.
Trump loathes Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. In 2020, the pair refused to “find” Trump votes after his defeat. Right now, Kemp is favored over Perdue, who lies about the outcome of November election and his own recent defeat. Meanwhile, a grand jury is examining Trump’s post-election conduct.
And then there is Madison Cawthorn, North Carolina’s over-the-top congressman. He went down to defeat after videos of his alleged nude antics hit the internet. Republicans were unamused. By contrast, Cawthorn’s earlier visit to Hitler’s vacation home did not move the needle.
In the hours and days ahead, expect Oz and McCormick to garner continued media attention. But come November, another contest in Pennsylvania will also grab its share of the spotlight – the race for governor.
Douglas Mastriano is now the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Unlike Oz and McCormick, Mastriano truly believes the Maga message. It is a tenet of faith. As a candidate, he championed Christian nationalism, espoused election denialism and flipped the bird at efforts to curb Covid’s spread.
A Pennsylvania state senator and a retired colonel, Mastriano has pledged to appoint a Maga secretary of state to oversee Pennsylvania’s election machinery. He also vowed that his secretary of state would “reset” the voter rolls.
Fittingly, Mastriano attended the 6 January rally. He and his wife watched as a rioter stormed a police barricade. They did not enter the building, but the House select committee has subpoenaed him. The fact that Mastriano recently attended a Qanon rally did not deter the Republican Governors Association from eventually backing him.
Mastriano makes some Pennsylvania Republicans nervous. They predict his presence may cost the Republican party control of the governor’s mansion and the Senate.
Then again, inflation still rages, the possibility of a recession looms, the stock market wobbles. Populist rage propelled Trump to the White House. History can repeat itself. If empowered, Mastriano will do all that he can to make it happen.