STATESIDE: You have to play close attention to follow how this game is being played

STATE Rep Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts on Tuesday at the Overland Park Convention Center in Kansas to election returns on an abortion referendum. Kansas voters on Tuesday protected the right to get an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban it outright. Photo: Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

STATE Rep Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, reacts on Tuesday at the Overland Park Convention Center in Kansas to election returns on an abortion referendum. Kansas voters on Tuesday protected the right to get an abortion in their state, rejecting a measure that would have allowed their Republican-controlled legislature to tighten abortion restrictions or ban it outright. Photo: Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

With Charlie Harper

The notion of outside manipulation of American elections is now part of the contemporary political lexicon, thanks to the shenanigans of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump’s amateurish but successful 2016 presidential campaign. Much has been written about the Russian disinformation campaigns against the US and Western European democracies over the past decade, and historians recall that such propaganda and sly manipulation has been a key tenet of Russian foreign policy for the past 100 years.

But there’s a newer and different kind of political manipulation now underway in the US as the country moves within 100 days of the next general election on November 8. Naturally, the outsized figure of Trump is central to this new phenomenon, which involves the Democratic Party systematically intervening in Republican primary elections to tip the scales in favour of candidates whose embrace of Trump’s 2020 election lies or other far-right conspiracy theories may make them unelectable in a general election.

The roots of this strategy are probably to be found in 2010, when the Republicans were poised, as they have long seemed to be this year, for a big triumph at the polls in the first election after a Democrat won the White House two years earlier. A dozen years ago, the Tea Party was a big factor in GOP support around the country. A grass-roots movement based, as Trumpism largely also is, on the disaffection of what Hillary Clinton infamously derided as the “deplorables” and Barack Obama ridiculed as “gun-carrying, Bible-thumping” innocents, the Tea Party was unleashed by yet another Republican rebuke of a new Democratic President – in this case, Bill Clinton, in 1994.

By 2010, the Tea Party had gained enough steam that “mainstream” Republican candidates had to be very wary indeed to avoid primary election challenges. Some of these establishment GOP candidates were very popular and were headed to almost certain victories in their Senate campaigns that year – provided they could fend off Tea Party-supported challengers. Pundits in Washington still cite one glaring example of how Tea Party zealotry upset such calculations in a memorable race.

In Delaware, a true-blue state that has supported Joe Biden for many decades, the GOP 2010 was set to nominate the state’s former Republican governor and only congressman, Mike Castle. A fixture in Delaware politics for nearly as long as Biden, Castle enjoyed widespread popularity as the rare politician whose stature transcended party politics. The Democrats knew they would lose this Senate seat.

Then Christine O’Donnell entered the GOP primary contest. A former statewide candidate sometimes compared with former Alaska governor Sarah Pallin, O’Donnell was defiantly anti-establishment. Here’s what the Delaware Republican Party chair said as O’Donnell’s challenge to Castle neared its end: “Is Christine O’Donnell actually this unhinged from reality? Or is she simply a liar, whose total lack of respect for Delaware voters leads her to deliberately and repeatedly deny the clear facts surrounding her many personal and professional failures? She’s not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware. She could not be elected dog catcher.”

O’Donnell, endorsed by the Tea Party, won the GOP nomination anyhow. Then a bland Democratic county executive, Chris Coons, trounced her in the general election. Coons remains in the Senate today.

The Democrats remember this race. They also recall the 2012 Senate race in Missouri. Then, Democratic incumbent senator (and current MSNBC pundit) Claire McCaskill looked vulnerable in her re-election bid.

Missouri is a pretty deep red state, and the GOP had two strong contenders to oppose her. They also had Todd Akin, a congressman who was the Tea Party favourite. He prevailed in the primary, and then said this:

Akin, who was a strong abortion opponent, was asked during a local TV interview whether he supported allowing abortions for women who have been raped. He answered that “from what I understand from doctors, such pregnancies are really rare.” He added: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin’s phenomenal blunder, both on factual and political grounds, quickly spread throughout the country. He wound up getting trounced by McCaskill, whom most observers had rated as the most vulnerable incumbent senator seeking re-election in 2012. According to published reports, McCaskill spent over $2m of her own campaign funds promoting Akin’s candidacy during his successful primary run.

During that campaign, there were allegations that Democrats were paying for campaign ads that tried to boost Akin over his better qualified primary election rivals. Now, this practice is much more widespread, as GOP candidates spouting Trump’s Big Election Lie earn his endorsement but don’t measure up to rivals on election day. The Dems are allegedly meddling in GOP primary politics again, this time to promote Trump’s allies as easier targets in November.

For instance, Dan Cox, a far-right state legislator who has embraced Trump’s 2020 election lies, prevailed in the Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary last month. Cox will be the heavy underdog in November, which suits the majority Democrats very well indeed. While Maryland is a deep blue state, two of its most recent governors have been Republicans including the incumbent, Larry Hogan, who is contemplating a presidential run in two years.

Hogan disparaged Cox as a “QAnon whack job,” but Cox nevertheless received support from a surprising source: the Democratic Party. The Democratic Governors Association earmarked over a million dollars to broadcast an ad listing Cox’s far-right credentials that was designed to make him more appealing to the GOP’s conservative base ahead of the primary. This was a big win for Cox and the enduring strength of Trump’s endorsements, but a sure loss for the Republicans in November.

Numerous news sources have reported similar tactics were used to help pro-Trump candidates win gubernatorial primaries in Illinois and Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania in particular, the Republican candidate is now given almost no chance in his contest against a popular state Attorney General.

Yesterday, most of the headlines went to a Kansas referendum on abortion rights, in which nearly three-fifths of voters in a profoundly red state cast their ballots essentially in favour of women’s reproductive rights and against a restrictive law passed by the state legislature. Kansas, home of former Trump administration Secretary of State and current unofficial presidential candidate Mike Pompeo, has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 and is widely regarded as profoundly red in its political make-up.

So this result reaffirms poll numbers suggesting Americans disagree strongly with the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision by returning the issue of abortion rights to the states for resolution. It may be a sign of trouble ahead in November for the GOP.

But also on Tuesday, several Trump-backed candidates prevailed in Michigan primary elections, including for governor, and candidates running with Trump’s endorsement in Arizona appear to have prevailed also.

It’s still really unclear what will happen in November and beyond for the Republicans. Trump is still supposedly the dominant, most popular figure in the party, and his real batting average in helping to secure primary election victories for his endorsed candidates is still pretty good – well over 50 percent. The nit-picking by pundits who claim he sometimes waits until a favourite emerges to offer an endorsement will be lost on those who just look at the overall record.

There is now widespread speculation that the former President will actually soon end the long period of teasing his supporters and declare his intention to run for President for a third time. Many observers think this announcement could come as early as next month, and will be designed to cement Trump’s position as the strong front-runner for the GOP nomination in an election still over two years away. Such are the realities of contemporary American presidential politics.

But if Trump does indeed declare his candidacy two months or so before this November’s elections, he will give the Dems a potential boost. With President Joe Biden’s approval ratings still at depressingly low levels and the economic hardships of a continuing epidemic of inflation disrupting voters’ sense of economic well-being, the overall odds for November should still strongly favour the GOP.

But if this election turns on the popular view of the twice-impeached former President instead of the sagging incumbent, watch out.


JohnQ 1 year, 11 months ago

Charlie Harper is a biased Socialist Democrat bootlicker and a lazy columnist who cannot control his Trump fetish.

Hey Charlie............it's the economy stupid.

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