Did the Trump movement get a bloody nose in last night’s Republican primaries? It’s a story that most of the media and important parts of the Republican party – desperate to move on from the Orange Years of 2016 to 2020 – really want to be true. But the evidence so far is mixed.
In North Carolina, the wheel-chair bound Trump devotee Madison Cawthorn, once a darling of the Make America Great Again movement, was ousted by state senator Chuck Edwards. Cawthorn had faced a number of scandals in recent weeks, but the Donald called on voters to look past his sins. On his new social site Truth Social, the 45th President wrote: ‘Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again ... let’s give Madison a second chance!’ Not so long ago, when Trump was still on Twitter, such a blessing would have been sufficient. Yesterday it was not. Cawthorn’s loss has been instantly held up as proof that Trump’s grip over the Republican party has been loosened.
The more important GOP primary of the evening, however, was the senate race in Pennsylvania. The result there is too close to call – between the Trump-backed Mehmet Oz, a suitably wacky celebrity TV doctor, and more establishment figure of David McCormick, a former hedge fund guy. McCormick had seemed an unlikely choice for the working-class Republican base in Pennsylvania. But the emergence of a more eccentric figure than even Oz in Kathy Barnette, who finished third, muddled things in McCormick’s favour. It looks as if a recount will now decide the result.
So – a bad night for MAGA but perhaps not the disastrous one the Beyond Trumpers in GOP circles feel they need. With the hugely unpopular Joe Biden in the White House, an inflationary crisis roaring away, the Grand Old Party knows that 2022 could be the year it finally moves on from the MAGA era and into a new age of mega majorities over the useless, fiscally incontinent and insanely woke Democrats. It’s all there for the taking.
But the enduring power of Trump’s appeal is a lingering headache for Republican strategists. The 45th President was and still is in many ways the most effective politician of the 21st century. Through his barking-mad genius for publicity, he created the Make American Great Again movement. He formed new coalitions of the forgotten. He reinvented ‘America First’ – a hoary old phrase in American politics – as a coherent political platform for the 21st century. Trumpism has transformed American democracy, whether you like it or not, and it is still a force.
But Trumpism is also, as everyone knows, divisive and at least as explosively unpopular as it is popular. It seems so far unable to sustain sufficient majorities nationwide. Trump’s determination to insist that the 2020 election was stolen from him makes his movement more divisive still. The truth is that, even if a lot of Americans do think Joe Biden’s election was a bit odd, voters prefer to move on. It’s difficult to win elections if you tell your supporters that voting is effectively pointless because the other side will cheat. Independents have little interest in relitigating 2020. Elections are exhausting enough at the time. The Beyond Trumpers may be right, but they may not win.