Trump still holds sway in GOP as MAGA candidates win in key primary races
Election results in a slate of key primary races Tuesday night underscored former President Donald Trump‘s enduring influence over the Republican Party, despite signals that his status as its de facto leader may be eroding.
In Arizona, multiple candidates up and down the ballot who modeled themselves as true Trump loyalists — embracing both his election conspiracy theories and the Make America Great Again agenda — either won or appeared to be nearing victory in races that were still too close to call by Wednesday morning.
And in Michigan, a House Republican incumbent who earned Trump’s scorn by voting for his impeachment after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot lost is his primary race against a Trump-endorsed challenger.
Trump took a victory lap on social media early Wednesday, suggesting the results demonstrated the power of his endorsement as a deciding factor in each race where he had weighed in. But some of those candidates were already front-runners by the time they received Trump’s endorsement — and in one GOP primary in Missouri, Trump hedged his bet by endorsing “Eric” in a race where multiple contenders shared that first name.
In Washington, meanwhile, results were too early to call Wednesday morning in races involving two other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The election outcomes, nevertheless, highlight how currying Trump’s favor and emulating his brand of hard-right populism — including by parroting his doubts about the integrity of elections — has become a widespread tactic among candidates looking to secure primary wins by appealing to Trump’s base.
The Arizona results in particular yielded numerous victories for backers of Trump’s false claim that his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden was “rigged” by widespread fraud.
Among those primary winners is Republican secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem, who denies Biden’s victory and attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally that shortly preceded the Capitol riot. If he were to win in November, Finchem would become the top elections official in the state.
Five other Republican candidates labeled election deniers have won primaries for secretary of state, according to nonpartisan election watchdog States United Action.
Also in Arizona, Trump-backed Senate candidate Blake Masters won the Republican primary, advancing him against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
And Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives who testified in a public hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, recounting how Trump and his allies pressured him to challenge 2020 election results, lost his primary bid for a state Senate seat.
Trump had endorsed Bowers’ Republican opponent, former state Sen. David Farnsworth, for the seat. Trump in that endorsement called Bowers a “weak and pathetic [Republican In Name Only] who has blocked Election Integrity.”
Meanwhile, the winner of Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial primary was too close to call on Wednesday morning, according to NBC News’ tally of the race. But Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed former local news anchor who has repeatedly claimed the 2020 race was stolen, appeared to be leading her nearest GOP challenger Karrin Taylor Robson, who is backed by former Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump has also pushed for the ouster of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him after the riot, and much of the GOP has followed suit. Four of those pro-impeachment Republicans — Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York and Fred Upton of Michigan — will retire at the end of their current terms.
Another, Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., lost his primary race in June. David Valadao, R-Calif., survived his primary challenge.
But Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., lost his primary election Tuesday, after weathering attacks from both Trump and Democrats, who reportedly boosted his far-right opponent, John Gibbs.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s ad touting Gibbs’ ties to Trump drew accusations from Meijer’s campaign and others that Democrats were meddling in the race to boost a potentially weaker candidate.
“I’m disgusted that hard-earned money intended to support Democrats is being used to boost Trump-endorsed candidates,” said U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.
Democrats in Arizona reportedly attempted a similar move in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, a tactic that was seen as an effort to undermine Robson and help the far-right Lake.
“This was a hard-fought primary campaign, and I want to thank everyone in West Michigan for their support,” Meijer said in a concession statement sent early Wednesday morning.
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