The wages of injudicious insurgency

Last month, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell got together at the White House. According to reports, they discussed, among other things, Steve Bannon’s threat to back insurgent candidates in an effort to defeat numerous GOP Senators in primaries. I thought that, from McConnell’s perspective, convincing Trump not to support this effort was the primary purpose of the lunch.

McConnell reminded Trump about past insurgent primary winners who went on to lose in the general election. As he said later, during the joint press conference:

Look, you know, the goal here is to win elections in November. Back in 2010 and 2012, we nominated several candidates — Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock. They’re not in the Senate. And the reason for that was that they were not able to appeal to a broader electorate in the general election. . . .

We changed the business model in 2014; we nominated people who could win everywhere. We took the majority in the Senate. We had one skirmish in 2016; we kept the majority in the Senate.

Trump appeared to be persuaded by McConnell’s analysis, probably because it was focused on winning — something the president likes to do even more than most of us. He said:

Well, I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve has been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot. Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing.

Some of the people that he may be looking at [to “primary”], I’m going to see if we talk him out of that, because, frankly, they’re great people.

I wonder whether Trump thinks back to McConnell’s advice as he learns about the s**t show in Alabama. I wonder whether Trump, who suffered embarrassment as a result of his endorsement of Luther Strange in the primary, is now glad he didn’t back Roy Moore.

Losing Senate races in “red” Missouri and Indiana was galling. Losing in “crimson” Alabama would be crushing. Yet, it’s a definite possibility thanks to the nomination of Moore.

Winning with Moore wouldn’t be a picnic either. Republicans would face pressure not to seat him. Not seating Moore would amount to “establishment politicians” overriding the will of the voters of Alabama. It would alienate important elements of the base. Seating Moore would, if the facts continue to go against his claims of innocence, be seen as Republicans condoning criminal sexual conduct directed at girls.

Clearly, developments in Alabama militate in favor of the argument McConnell made to Trump, seemingly with some success. I’m certainly not saying that Republican incumbents should never be “primaried” or that insurgent candidacies should always be rejected.

I’m saying that Republicans should be more wary of these practices than they have been lately because the practices have produced too many bad and/or unelectable candidates.


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