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The Memo: Five Trump takeaways from primary season

The 2022 primary season is finally coming to an end with contests Tuesday in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The election season threw up plenty of fascinating races. More often than not, former President Trump was at their center.

Here are some of the biggest Trump-related takeaways.

The GOP impeachers were largely vanquished

Trump’s grip over the GOP was starkly shown by the fate of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for his role in inciting the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

Only two of the 10 even have a chance of making it back to Congress in January — and that is far from certain.

The thrashing handed out to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in her August primary sparked particular glee among Trump allies.

Despite Cheney’s strong name recognition, sky-high media profile and — by Wyoming standards — enormous campaign bank account, she was defeated in emphatic fashion by Harriet Hageman, a Trump-backed attorney. 

In the end, Hageman beat Cheney by almost 40 points.

“Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself,” Trump gloated in a post on Truth Social. “Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion.”

Four of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump chose to retire.

But Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) all suffered the same fate as Cheney, losing to Trump-backed challengers.

Only Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) remain standing. 

Tellingly, both men were running in nonparty primaries, where the top two candidates regardless of party advanced to the general election.

Doubts over electability shadow Trump picks

There’s no denying Trump’s success in backing many primary winners.

But plenty of Republicans are disconcerted by his role in elevating GOP nominees who are struggling in their general election campaigns.

Exhibit A is Mehmet Oz, the famed TV doctor who is now the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania.

Oz trails Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) by a significant margin, despite Fetterman’s campaign activities having been curtailed by a stroke in May. Fetterman led Oz by 6.5 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average on Tuesday evening.

Deepening Republican worries, the winner of the Pennsylvania contest will replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. The loss of even one Senate seat currently held by Republicans would be a big blow to the GOP’s hopes of taking control of the upper chamber.

A similar pattern could play out in Ohio, where Trump favorite J.D. Vance is in an unexpectedly close contest for a Senate seat with Rep. Tim Ryan (D). 

A Cincinnati Enquirer-Suffolk University poll conducted earlier this month gave Ryan a 1-point lead in a state Trump carried by 8 points in 2020. 

Then there are the Trump choices who — at least according to his internal critics — may end up squandering GOP pickup opportunities. 

The two most obvious examples in this regard are Herschel Walker, the former football star trying to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in Georgia, and Blake Masters, who is aiming to oust Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in Arizona.

Some of these Republican candidates might prevail in the end. 

But GOP worries were summed up when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) downplayed his party’s chances in August. McConnell said during an event in his home state that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”

The remark was widely seen as a jab at Trump. 

The former president apparently also saw it that way. He hit back at McConnell as a “broken down hack politician.”

Gubernatorial primaries prove tougher nuts for Trump to crack

Several of Trump’s losses came in gubernatorial races.

The bitterest pill for Team Trump to swallow was Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) demolition of former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) in a May primary. 

Kemp, a long-standing target of Trump’s ire for resisting the then-president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in the state, beat Perdue by more than 50 points, winning about 74 percent of the vote to Perdue’s roughly 22 percent.

But there were other losses too.

Charles Herbster, for whom Trump had campaigned in Nebraska, lost his gubernatorial primary to University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. 

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little (R) rebuffed a Trump-backed challenger, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

There were, to be sure, reasons beyond Trump that some of his candidates lost. 

Perdue proved a surprisingly lackluster campaigner. Herbster faced charges of groping from several women, which he denied.

Meanwhile, Trump did enjoy some gubernatorial successes, notably with Kari Lake in Arizona and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania.

Still, it seems clear that voters were less willing to do the former president’s bidding in races for the governor’s mansion than they were in House or Senate contests.

A mixed bag for those who resisted Trump in 2020

Almost two years on from the 2020 presidential election, Trump keeps falsely asserting that President Biden’s win was fraudulent.

He also continues to seek vengeance on Republican officials who resisted his attempts to overturn the election.

The effort has met with mixed results.

Georgia was the most galling state for Trump. Not only did Kemp win the gubernatorial primary, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) also held on. 

Raffensperger was on the receiving end of Trump’s now-infamous early January 2021 phone call requesting that he “find” enough votes to overcome Biden’s margin of victory in the state. He declined to do so.

Raffensperger’s win was in many ways more surprising than Kemp’s. The Georgia secretary of state comfortably defeated Trump’s choice, Rep. Jody Hice.

Others were not so lucky. 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) said in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election that Trump had lost his state. 

Brnovich shifted away from that position as he sought to win the GOP nomination for Senate — only to lose to the Trump-endorsed Masters.

At the state level, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) briefly became a political celebrity following his televised testimony to the House select committee on Jan. 6.

Bowers was duly censured by his state party. He lost his state Senate primary to a pro-Trump rival.

Getting the better of Pence, by proxy

Trump’s complicated relationship with his former vice president, Mike Pence, took another few twists this primary season.

In three major contests, the two men were on opposing sides. 

Trump ended up with the better record.

Pence’s backing of Arizona gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson, a Republican establishment favorite, was insufficient to hold off Trump’s choice, Lake. Robson lost by about 5 points. 

The pattern was replicated almost exactly in the Wisconsin gubernatorial primary, where the Pence-backed Rebecca Kleefisch fell to Trump-approved businessman Tim Michels.

The one race where Pence did get the better of Trump mattered, though. 

Pence backed Kemp in Georgia, even holding a rally with him on the eve of the primary.

Still, the three results in aggregate were a reminder that Trump retains his populist advantage over his erstwhile deputy.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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