3 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Primaries
Posted June 13, 2018 11:24 a.m. EDT
It’s a New GOP
For many years, Republican voters in Virginia’s affluent and highly educated Washington suburbs tended to reward mainstream candidates who could be competitive in the general election. But on Tuesday, it was Fairfax County, the population hub of the region, that delivered victory for Corey Stewart, the flame-throwing Trump acolyte who has won national attention with his paeans to Confederate emblems.
Stewart narrowly defeated Nick Freitas, a state lawmaker, thanks to a decisive win in Fairfax County. And a third candidate who has also made his name as a provocateur, E.W. Jackson, carried 14 percent in the county with the third-highest median income in America.
So What is Happening in Fairfax?
As the county has, like other high-income suburbs around the country, become more Democratic-leaning, the Republican Party has thinned out. The moderate wing of the party has dissipated, leaving a smaller and firmly conservative activist bedrock. And such voters care little about appeals to pragmatism — they are drawn to candidates who echo the president they embrace.
Democrats Love the Party Establishment
Across four states with contested primary elections, Democratic voters embraced the candidates favored — and in some cases hand-picked — by party leaders in Washington and the states, spurning insurgents who tried to align themselves with the activist left.
In a crucial House primary in Northern Virginia, it was Jennifer Wexton, a state senator endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam, who emerged from a throng of candidates looking to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock, a gravely vulnerable Republican. In two Nevada House races, Democrats nominated Steven Horsford, a former member of Congress, and Susie Lee, a wealthy philanthropist and party donor, by resounding margins after Democratic leaders lined up behind them.
That deferential attitude defined voting in races for governor, too: In South Carolina, Democrats picked James Smith, a state legislator and military veteran close to Joe Biden, to run for governor, giving him more than 60 percent of the vote against two rivals. In Nevada, Steve Sisolak, a Clark County commissioner forcefully backed by Harry Reid, the former Senate Democratic leader, repelled an opponent on the left, Chris Giunchigliani. (In a third gubernatorial primary, in Maine, Janet Mills, the state attorney general, held a modest lead over her Democratic rivals, but the race was too close to call.)
The night of triumph for the Democratic establishment was no aberration. Upstart liberals have won a few important primary elections in recent months, but for the most part Democratic voters and Democratic leaders have worked in concert rather than conflict. There is little sign of a Democratic version of the Tea Party rebellion that rocked the Republican Party in 2010, when GOP activists revolted against a president they loathed — and also against officials atop their own party.
It Is the Trump Party
Rep. Mark Sanford carried the sort of conservative credentials that once were all but certain to inoculate a Republican against a primary challenger. He was a member of the House class of 1994, won an insurgent bid for governor in 2002 and earned acclaim on the right for being such an unswerving fiscal hawk he once brought squealing pigs into the state capitol to make a point about pork-barrel spending. Then he returned to Congress and became a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus.
But none of that matters much in the era of Trump.
Sanford on Tuesday saw his career extinguished, at least for the moment, because he refused to curb his criticism of Trump and complaints that the GOP had become “a cult of personality.”
The South Carolinian, once seen as a candidate for president, was able to mount a comeback after his well-publicized extramarital affair nearly a decade ago. But his infidelity to Trump proved fatal.