The New MAGA Establishment Prevails
The Bulwark team has some post-primary hot takes
“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” — Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985 (!)
Welcome to the Morning After!
In last night’s primaries: Elections deniers and conspiracists surged, Trump-backed candidates (except for Madison Cawthorn and assorted crazies) won, Blue Dog Democrats headed for extinction, and Pennsylvania’s Senate race is still too close to call.
And you thought it couldn’t get worse.
We asked The Bulwark’s Best and Brightest for their takes on last night’s primaries, so today’s newsletter is a roundup of their analyses. (Check in later today for JVL’s smoking Fetterman Takes in The Triad.)
The prospect of a purple state governor who was explicit in his ambition to overturn the will over the voters to institute a Trump autocracy is certainly the headline from primary night.
But across the GOP landscape another trend is beginning to surface: the power of the new MAGA establishment.
The MAGA establishment is the collection of old guard GOP consultants who submitted to Trumpism, conservative media outlets, and Trump hangers-on who are using their power to try to guide that party towards candidates who are loyal to Trump and squashing two other types of candidates: 1) those who dared oppose him 2) the anti-establishment MAGA wild cards they can no longer control.
In the former group was Pat McCrory, a former North Carolina governor and Charlotte mayor who criticized Trump over his Putinphilia and insurrectionist incitement. In the North Carolina Senate primary he lost bigly to Ted Budd, a milquetoast Trump stooge who will do what he's told.
On the other end of the spectrum were Kathy Barnette and Madison Cawthorn, who got crossways with the new establishment thanks to their erratic campaigns and, in Cawthorn's case, salacious accusations. With the help of Dr. Oz advisor/Fox host Sean Hannity and an avalanche of oppo, Barnette and Cawthorn were both cast out, sure to find a soft landing at OAN or the latest MAGA media grift.
Some pundits will want to glean something about the power of Trump himself from his endorsement scorecard (he dropped the Idaho governors race with the Pennsylvania Senate outcome still too close to call), but that misses the point.
Trump has consolidated power to such a degree that he wins even by losing, and while his endorsement faxes might not always yield winners, the new MAGA establishment is undefeated in determining who must be made a loser.
After conducting a series of focus groups in Pennsylvania, I thought McCormick would likely prevail by a nose in the GOP Senate primary.
And while the race is currently too close to call—and it’s funny to see GOP candidates suddenly relying on much-maligned mail-in-ballots—McCormick is probably substantively correct that mailed-in votes will likely go his way and could put him over the top. If that happens, he should send a fruit basket to Kathy Barnette, who siphoned MAGA votes away from Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz. Either way, settle in for a recount.
Also, shout out to the Idaho GOP who nominated Governor Brad Little over insane Trump-endorsed Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin. The Idaho GOP also nominated perfectly sane county clerk Phil McGrane over two “stop the steal” lunatics.
Add that to Madison Cawthorn losing his congressional seat and there were a couple of bright spots for democracy among the generally gloomy outlook.
Doug Mastriano is the first full-on 2020 election denier/potential 2024 election overturner to win the GOP nomination in a key swing state.
But he could well be followed by Republican nominees who are election deniers and potential overturners in MI, WI, and AZ. The House and Senate races are obviously important, and some of the down-ballot races (especially Sec State) too. But those swing-state governor races in the 2022 general election will very likely be the most important of the year.
Mastriano won by sweeping more than 40 percent of the GOP primary vote. It only cost about $1.6 million. That’s all he raised in his successful bid for the Republican nomination to be Pennsylvania’s next governor, in which he vanquished eight challengers.
Compare that to the money Republican candidates David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz spent on their races, mostly pulling funds from their own bank accounts, in hopes of clutching Pennsylvania's Republican nomination for Senate, which at the time of this writing is too close to call. (In a battering of irony, the winner will be decided by mail-in votes Trump candidates and MAGA media have railed against since 2020.)
McCormick, a wealthy hedge fund manager, loaned his campaign $11 million and raised close to another $5 million, bringing his total campaign arsenal to nearly $16 million. Oz, rich from his television career, gave his campaign more than $12 million and raised close to $3 million more. See other numbers here. That doesn’t even count all the PAC money that flowed into Pennsylvania boosting the candidates. Loads of cash. For what. A race that’s too close to call.
Meanwhile, Mastriano ran away with it — in a primary on the same day with the same universe of voters. He knows what he’s doing.
In today’s Bulwark: ‘Don’t Read Too Much Into Madison Cawthorn’s Defeat.”
Even if Trump did back the loser in this race, it is still very much his party. Cawthorn’s volatile combination of callowness and callousness, not to mention his unpredictability, so alienated him from voters that even Trump couldn’t redeem him in their eyes. That doesn’t mean, though, that Cawthorn’s loss is the come-to-Jesus moment that the party desperately needs. Don’t get your hopes up.
Democrats assume that there is no way that Doug Mastriano can be elected governor of Pennsylvania, and they are so confident that they actually helped him win the GOP primary.
This is probably smart politics. Everything about Pennsylvania’s swing state electorate suggests Mastriano is a dead man walking.
Except for this: Lots of Republicans and Democrats alike felt exactly the same way about Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential primary, back when establishment Republicans were praying for anyone other than Trump to win the nomination and some of Hillary Clinton’s advisers were salivating over the prospect of running against Trump. The climate for Democrats in this midterm election year is no better than it was then. In fact, it’s worse. And Pennsylvania is a swing state for a reason. Trump only lost Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes in 2020. He won the state four years earlier.
1. The Time to Prevent the Next Coup Attempt Is Now
Down-ballot, unsexy races at the state and local level will determine if there’s a free and fair election in 202, writes Mona Charen.
If past is prologue, Democrats will probably pour money into unwinnable races over the next few months. Remember Amy McGrath? She was supposed to dethrone Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Democratic donors gave her $88 million. Remember Jamie Harrison? He was going to defeat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Donors shoveled $130 million his way. Harrison lost by a 10-point margin. McGrath lost by nearly 20 points. The list goes on. Beto O’Rourke anyone? (Republicans do this too. Just look at the money wasted in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district.)
This year, donors are spending millions in an attempt to unseat the execrable Marjorie Taylor Greene. Sigh. Trump won Greene’s district with 75 percent of the vote. This. Won’t. Work.
Democrats, independents, and sane Republicans should focus instead on the critical local contests that will determine who counts the votes in 2024. Those unsexy races for local positions and administrative posts like secretaries of state could make the difference in 2024 between an election and a coup.
2. Pope Francis Is Dangerously Wrong About Ukraine
Since Vladimir Putin’s renewed war of conquest in Ukraine in late February, Pope Francis has offered perfunctory condemnations of the “violent aggression against Ukraine.” It will surprise nobody that the pope has protested against an unjust war. Alas, it’s more surprising––or, better put, shocking––to find that he’s also protesting against a just one.
All the (former) president’s men.