The candidate's win marks a big shift in the Republican Party
Five U.S. states held primaries yesterday. Interest was largely on the GOP side, with high-profile Senate primaries in Arizona and Missouri and a number of colourful Trump-aligned candidates across the board. As to the question that has transfixed the national media over the last two years — the extent of former President Donald Trump’s continued hold on the Republican Party — the results were mixed, to say the least.
Perhaps the biggest scalp claimed by Trump was that of Peter Meijer, an incumbent Congressman from Michigan who voted to impeach the former president over the Capitol riot. Meijer narrowly lost to the Trump-endorsed John Gibbs, a black, Japanese-speaking computer programmer, former Pentecostal missionary, and traditionalist Catholic, in a race. Here, the Democrats ran paid ads in support of the “election-denying” MAGA candidate, apparently in the belief that Gibbs would be an easier opponent in the November midterm. Trump’s man in Arizona, Senate candidate Blake Masters, a former protegé of Peter Thiel and leading figure of the ‘New Right’, comfortably won his primary, as did Trump’s pick for governor in Michigan, Tudor Dixon.
Elsewhere the picture was muddier. At the time of writing, Trump’s pick for Arizona governor, Kari Lake, a former local news anchor who has repeatedly claimed the 2020 election was stolen, appeared to have lost to Karrin Taylor Robson, an ally of the retiring governor, Doug Ducey, though the gap has since closed and the race remains undeclared. In Missouri, Trump merely endorsed “Eric” — refusing to specify which of the two Erics in the race he was talking about. That’s because Trump was apparently leaning toward endorsing Eric Greitens — the scandal-plagued former governor who has been accused of sexual assault and blackmail (by his former mistress and hairstylist) and domestic abuse (by his ex-wife) — until his advisors intervened.
In any event, the other Eric — Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt — won, allowing Trump to claim an ambiguous sort of victory in a race he had little to do with. In Washington, meanwhile, pro-impeachment Republicans Dan Newhouse and Jamie Hererra Beutler won over a divided MAGA opposition.
To the extent that there’s a lesson here, it’s that Trump remains powerful but not all-powerful within the Republican Party. He still commands a loyal following in the GOP primary electorate and his endorsement is important, especially in crowded primaries and for already-strong contenders. But it is not enough to put weak candidates over the top, especially when the opposition is able to rally around a single candidate. And voters in Kansas, who favoured Trump by a 15-point margin in 2020, yesterday voted down a proposed constitutional amendment to remove protections for abortion, suggesting that even in red parts of the country, the GOP will be punished for staking out positions that the average American regards as extreme.
Of all the candidates who emerged from their party’s primaries yesterday, the most interesting to watch going forward will be Blake Masters, a former protegé of billionaire investor Peter Thiel. To call him a ‘MAGA’ candidate is technically correct but misleading. An intellectually inclined millennial who has spoken favourably of the Unambomber and whose slickly produced campaign videos have drawn comparisons to Christopher Nolan films, Masters is the single figure in American politics who best embodies what is fascinating, and frightening, about the so-called New Right — namely, as Aris Roussinos writes, its ‘revolutionary dissatisfaction with the status quo’ and ‘desire to win the coming ideological battle’.
Masters faces a difficult challenge in unseating Democratic Senator Mark Kelly this November. If he succeeds, however, he, far more than Trump, will be the man to watch for clues as to the future of the American Right.