Aug 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump gives House a break

Photo illustration of a collage of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy and the US Capitol.
Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Al Drago/Bloomberg, Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Former President Trump has been paying a lot less attention to House races than he has to statewide races — and lots of Republicans don't mind a bit.

Why it matters: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his allies are boosting the fortunes of more-mainstream-than-MAGA Republicans in pivotal primaries, often working under the radar.

What's happening: The McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC has quietly spent about $7 million in Republican primaries, boosting more electable candidates.

  • In California, CLF helped salvage Rep. Young Kim’s campaign from a right-wing challenger and bailed out anti-Trump GOP Rep. David Valadao from a MAGA opponent as well.
  • The group spent $1 million to boost Juan Ciscomani, a celebrated Hispanic recruit in an Arizona swing district, and nearly $600,000 to help Navy veteran Jen Kiggans prevail against a right-wing opponent in a battleground Virginia district.
  • House Republicans credit McCarthy's mostly constructive relationship with Trump for helping keep the former president from causing havoc in key races. McCarthy helped convince Trump not to endorse a challenger against Valadao. If Valadao had lost the primary, Democrats would have been the odds-on favorite to win his seat.

Zoom in: While Trump has held rallies for favored Senate and governor's candidates, his House focus has been limited mainly to exacting vengeance on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

  • Trump's House endorsements focus on going after Republicans who backed his impeachment, and a few others he views as disloyal.
  • McCarthy had a mixed record defending three Republican lawmakers from Trump-endorsed challenges on Tuesday. Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse defeated a MAGA challenger, but Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer narrowly lost to Trump-backed John Gibbs.
  • Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s race against Trump-endorsed Joe Kent is too close to call. Super PACs aligned with the GOP establishment spent about $3 million boosting Herrera Beutler in the primary.

What's next: After November, McCarthy’s caucus is still likely to become more Trump-friendly.

  • House Republicans have nominated MAGA-oriented candidates in many safe seats, and most of the 10 Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment either retired or lost.
  • Pragmatic members like Reps. David McKinley of West Virginia and Rodney Davis of Illinois, who both backed Biden’s infrastructure deal, also were defeated by Trump-endorsed Republican colleagues.
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