Apr 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP channels Trump anger in primary battles

Illustration of an orange GOP elephant with Trump’s hair.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Republican incumbents and candidates facing competitive primaries are abandoning their pasts and turning to scorched-earth, socially focused campaigns to head off conservative rivals.

Why it matters: The trend underscores how former President Trump primed his base to demand GOP lawmakers mirror his aggressive tactics — and how his core voters are angrier than ever with him out of office.

A prime example is Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas), who ultimately ended his re-election bid in March after admitting to an extramarital affair.

  • In recent cycles, Taylor was in a swing district and faced well-funded Democratic foes. He ran ads touting himself as “Mr. Bipartisan” and highlighting his legislative record — including a bill cracking down on domestic violence.
  • But after redistricting this year, with a safe GOP district and the only serious threat to his right, he ran an ad called “Battlefield."
  • It said "The Swamp” was going after him for “standing up to the radical left” and “fighting the woke mob and vaccine mandates.”

The backstory: A member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Taylor faced heat in his district for breaking with GOP leadership and voting in favor of a commission to investigate Jan. 6.

  • That spawned several credible right-wing primary challenges before his personal digression killed his candidacy.

The big picture: Taylor's kind of Trump-channeling has been replicated across the country by Republican incumbents facing Trump-inspired primary challenges.

  • Trump-endorsed Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) launched a bid against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), a member of the moderate Republican Governance Group, after her district got broken up. Davis said in a statement he's a “conservative who gets things done.”
  • Davis also went further: Miller, he said, is “all talk, no action." He blasted her for voting with the “far-left Squad" on a defense appropriations bill and backing a “Never Trump ticket" for Illinois governor.
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), a low-key senator facing a right-wing opponent in former NFL player Jake Bequette, is running ads featuring Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The prominent conservative firebrand dubs Boozman "our conservative fighter."

What they're saying: "Ads are reflective of where the voters are, and the voters are angry," National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Chris Hartline told Axios.

  • "They're angry about inflation, gas prices, Afghanistan, but also about school closures and mask mandates."

Go deeper: Some GOP Senate primaries feature multiple candidates with moderate backgrounds trying to refashion themselves as the most Trump-aligned culture-war crusaders.

The other side: Some Republican moderates have opted to leave politics altogether rather than dabble in this new style of politics.

Editor’s note: This piece was corrected to show Rep.  Miller’s hometown was drawn into the district of Rep. Bost, and both got pieces of Miller’s old district.

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