As former President Donald Trump’s presidential legacy is tested in Washington this week, with the Jan. 6 hearings dominating Capitol Hill, his political power -- and the sway of his election denying -- saw a renewed test in the midterm primaries in a handful of states. Voters took the polls in South Carolina, Nevada, Maine, North Dakota and Texas’ 34 Congressional District Tuesday night, delivering historic turnout numbers and allowing voters to give Republicans who defied the former president a second chance at keeping their jobs, and some Democrats to lose theirs.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Tuesday’s races:
Trump finally lands incumbent ouster
While Trump’s had some success in backing candidates in open races, he’s had major difficulty in knocking off their perch incumbent members of his party who have challenged him in some way, putting aside the score of Trump-scorned Republicans who have decided to not seek re-election.
But finally, on Tuesday, Trump was able to handedly bump one of the most vocal of that list, Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina, off his seat, rendering him out of a job come November. Rice was one of the ten Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment, a “conservative vote” he told ABC News’ Jon Karl that he would make again in a heartbeat, even if it cost him his job. And lost his job he did, to MAGA-world challenger Russell Fry, who was quick to paint Rice as a traitor to his party. The demographic makeup of Rice’s district, toward the northern border of the state where voters trend far more conservative, may have also contributed to the massive backlash against Rice, pushing folks toward Fry’s direction.
Now, with newly-won swagger, Trump will undoubtedly charge on to defeat another impeachment-vote member of his party, and perhaps his biggest enemy yet, in Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. The question remains: can lightning -- and political luck -- strike twice?
Nancy Mace’s tightrope walk pays off in Trump proxy war
Totally flipped dynamics greeted South Carolina’s 1st District, where Trump was wholly unsuccessful in booting a challenger in Rep. Nancy Mace, who carried her primary win by at least ten points. Mace defeated cybersecurity expert Katie Arrington, who beat Rep. Mark Sanford in his primary in 2018 but ultimately lost the race to Rep. Joe Cunningham, who historically flipped the district Democrat during the slate of “blue wave races.” Arrington bet that voters in the low country would see Mace as something of a flip-flop, first condemning Trump hard after the Capitol insurrection and eventually softening her attacks. But that bet didn’t pay off, partly thanks to a bench of heavy hitter South Carolina endorsements for Mace, including former Gov. Nikki Haley and Trump Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Another interesting dynamic in Mace’s race is the endorsement cold war of sorts. The proxy battle between potential 2024 candidates -- Haley and Trump -- falls squarely in Haley’s camp, the beginning of a nice set up for a highly gossiped about bid for the White House. So far, a good record for Haley, who said in the past she’d bow out of consideration if Trump decides to run. But if Haley notches a few other primary wins, who knows? There may be a spot for her against Trump after all.
Trump seems to be trying to save face a little, saying on Truth Social Tuesday night that Arrington was a “long shot” and Mace will “easily” be able to defeat a Democratic opponent come November.
Big Lie gets big win in Nevada senate race
Voters in Nevada seem to not be scared of a little election denial. Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s open-armed embrace of conspiracy surrounding the 2020 presidential election helped him notch a win in the state’s GOP Senate Primary. Laxalt, who hails from a state political dynasty, bested political outsider Sam Brown who tried and failed to paint Laxalt as cozy with party insiders.
Still, a roster of Republican stars, nearly all of whom are rumored to join the crowded contest for president in 2024, backed Laxalt’s bid, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Laxalt’s former roommate, funnily enough) Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Tom Cotton, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
He’ll see if that flock of support will be enough to kick Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto out of office. She sails to the general election contest with no serious challengers and now must answer not just to Laxalt but to voters increasingly frustrated with the concurrent fallout of the pandemic, inflation, and other economic woes that hit the tourist-driven state.