He should be. You know what the polling looks like.
In one sense, Barnette winning wouldn’t be bad for Trump. She’s not running as Liz Cheney or even as Brian Kemp, after all. She’s running as a true-blue populist Trump supporter, someone whom Steve Bannon described as an “audience favorite” on his daily podcast. Trump’s consolation prize if his guy, Mehmet Oz, ends up losing is that it took someone who’s “ULTRA MAGA,” as Bannon describes her, to beat the official MAGA choice.
But in another sense, yeah, of course it’s bad. Trump wants to know that he’s the party’s supreme kingmaker, a man of such tremendous political influence that his support all but guarantees a candidate the Republican nomination. Barnette beating Oz confounds that. In particular, what Barnette said at a primary debate last month must send a chill down Trump’s spine: “MAGA does not belong to President Trump. Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”
MAGA is supposed to be defined by the person of Donald J. Trump. Barnette winning would be a sign that populist voters now define it differently, which in turn would leave Trump wondering what might happen in 2024 if Ron DeSantis wins big this fall and continues piling up crowd-pleasing policy wins. No wonder, then, that so many Trump cronies are suddenly scrambling to blow up Barnette on the launching pad.
Bottom line: He’s “nervous.” And he’s not the only one.
The situation has left Trump feeling “nervous about Oz’s prospects,” according to one Trump adviser, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal…
Another person close to Trump who has been supportive of Oz described the situation as “a nightmare.” In interviews with CNN, this person and three other Trump allies described Barnette, who nabbed endorsements late Tuesday from the socially conservative groups Susan B. Anthony List and CatholicVote and a seven-figure investment from the Club for Growth, as a major threat to both Oz and McCormick in the last stretch of the race…
The former President is still determining whether there is anything he can do to give Oz an extra boost in the race, the adviser to Trump said, noting that Trump was already planning to host a tele-rally and to target Republican voters with robocalls before the primary. Trump also held a campaign rally outside of Pittsburgh last Friday, where he repeatedly tore into McCormick to turn on-the-fence voters against him.
Also nervous are Mitch McConnell and the entirety of the establishment GOP, who’ll face a no-win situation if Barnette pulls the upset. Either she ends up fumbling away a Senate seat in the general election that might have been won with Oz or Dave McCormick as the nominee or she wins the general election and becomes another bombthrowing populist pain in the ass for Cocaine Mitch inside the GOP caucus. Axios calls Barnette’s surge an “oh sh*t” moment for Washington Republicans, which is practically an in-kind advertisement for her campaign.
Democrats are nervous too. On the one hand, they’re excited that Barnette might win since she’d be the easiest of the three GOP contenders to beat. On the other hand, they were excited that Trump might win the primary in 2016 for the same reason and you know how that turned out. This fall, with the national climate being what it is, any Republican candidate stands a fair chance of winning their race. “Like a lot of Democrats, I’m schizophrenic on this — rooting for the crazy person because it gives us the best chance to win. But at the same time it could give us a crazy senator or a crazy governor, or both,” said one Dem strategist in Pennsylvania to the Times.
Somehow Trump, McConnell, and the Democratic Party are all momentarily aligned in the same cause.
They have five days to figure out a line of attack that might spoil Barnette’s momentum. Sean Hannity tried one out on his show last night: She’s anti-Trump! Or was anti-Trump, for awhile.
Hannity using Barnette’s tweets against her pic.twitter.com/F4ePQFZkYN
— Acyn (@Acyn) May 12, 2022
Hannity had Oz on later in the show (reportedly he helped convince Trump to endorse Oz in the first place) and they tried out another line of attack: What do really know about Kathy Barnette? “I concur with your diagnosis. She is a mystery,” Oz said on the show, hoping to goose GOP fears that if they nominate an enigma and there’s a skeleton in her closet, Democrats will find it and blow her up in the general election.
There’s another potential line of attack: She has a problem with Muslims. Although as I said last night, I doubt that one will hurt her in a populist primary.
More Barnette on Muslims (from 2016):
“The mindset of a Muslim is very different from the mindset of Americans and that’s the reason why we cannot fully understand the level, the depth of the depravity, the depth of the evil, because it’s just not a part of the American fabric.” pic.twitter.com/Etlbs8LgW5
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) May 12, 2022
Finally, there’s this one that’s being pushed by Oz’s Super PAC: She’s woke! At least if we define “woke” as “believes that some white people are racist.”
The Muslim candidate in the primary would rather accuse Barnette of being anti-white, for which the evidence is thin, than of being anti-Muslim, for which there’s much more evidence. American politics, 2022.
The dilemma for Trump now is finding a way to balance his support for Oz, whom his base dislikes, with the growing probability of a victory by Barnette, whom many in his base favor. He took a stab at it this afternoon:
She’s probably hiding something and has no chance to win — but just in case she does win, Trump will be her biggest fan. That covers all the political bases he needs to cover, I suppose. He really is nervous.