It’s not hard to find good news for the Democratic Party in last night’s primary election returns, but if anyone is hoping for a return to sanity for the Republican Party, the results are not encouraging. Two outcomes in particular will suffice to tell the story.
In South Carolina’s First Congressional District, former governor and current U.S. Rep. Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford didn’t even make it to a runoff election, losing outright to Katie Arrington, who had blistered him for his criticisms of Donald Trump.
…Sanford continued to take risks by criticizing Trump numerous times despite usually voting with him. The congressman didn’t seem to really care, musing to Politico as far back as February of last year that he was “a dead man walking. If you’ve already been dead, you don’t fear it as much. I’ve been dead politically.”
Sanford kept digging his grave over the ensuing months, opining that Trump had done “some weird stuff” in office (though he was hardly one to talk) and calling Trump’s tariffs “an experiment with stupidity.” All of that suited Arrington just fine: She ran ad after ad arguing that the district needed a pro-Trump loyalist like herself.
Two states north, in Virginia, the Democrats are celebrating Corey Stewart’s successful bid for the Republican Party’s senatorial nomination to take on Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine. If that doesn’t give you PTSD flashbacks to the 2016 election night fiasco, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.
Kaine was seen as a strong favorite to win another six-year term before it was known that his opponent will be Stewart, but now most analysts are saying that the contest is over. Compared to Kaine, Stewart doesn’t have much money, and his ties to white nationalists, strange infatuation with the Confederacy, extremism on guns and immigration and overall Trumpian style are supposed to not only doom his campaign but the campaigns of some House candidates who will be sharing the ballot with him. In fact, the Democrats will try to use Stewart’s presence as a standard bearer for the GOP in Virginia as an anvil to pull down Republicans all across the country.
For his part, Stewart promises to run a vicious campaign and is already saying that Trump may imprison his opponent along with Hillary Clinton.
At Stewart’s election night party at the Electric Palm Restaurant, overlooking the Occoquan River in Woodbridge, supporters yelled “Corey! Corey!” as the loudspeaker blared “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Stewart was quick to make clear that he plans to run this race in the manner and style of his political hero, down to his hand gestures.“Virginia can choose to continue with the prosperity and the progress of America under President Trump,” he said, “or it can choose the past, with everything we know that has failed — and that’s Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine.”
Which prompted the crowd to erupt in chants of “Lock her up!” Stewart smiled slyly, then replied: “That might just happen, by the way. And Timmy, too. Oh, we’re gonna have a lot of fun between now and November, folks.”
Stewart railed against “criminal illegal aliens,” adding, “by the way, they are animals.” He said that Virginia can choose to let them overrun the state, or “we can arrest them, deport them back to the country they came from and build the wall.” That triggered a familiar response from the crowd: “Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!”
It’s true that Trump did not win in Virginia, and it’s also true that Virginia has not embraced Trump as president and severely chastised the GOP in last year’s state elections. So, analysts have good cause to predict that Kaine will be victorious, but we should have learned to be careful of what we wish for.
What’s certain is that Sanford’s loss combined with Stewart’s win sends a powerful message to sitting Republicans who are thinking of criticizing the president or holding him to account. Last night’s elections actually strengthened the president’s hold over his party, even if they may have modestly increased the chances that he’ll face at least one Democrat-controlled chamber of Congress next year.
It’s increasingly clear that the only way to save the nation and the Republican Party from Trumpism is to remove Trump from the equation. As long as he sits where he sits, the GOP will continue an inexorable process of remolding itself in his image.