What does it all mean? The most obvious conclusion to draw is that Republican primary voters are no longer so caught up in the Trump Show that other factors don’t matter in competitive races. Incumbency still matters: aside from the inept and self-sabotaging Cawthorn, every major race with an incumbent was won by the incumbent regardless of what Trump did. Money matters: Greene had a huge financial edge over her challenger, while Cawthorn did not. Divided fields matter: In Pennsylvania, David McCormick had less competition in his “lane” than Oz did, and Mastriano benefitted from a split in the “normal”-lane vote between Lou Barletta and Bill McSwain. Candidate quality matters: Ohio voters settled on Vance only after finding the rest of the choices wanting, Brooks revived as Mike Durant collapsed in the same way that Mike Gibbons did in Ohio, George P. Bush’s effort to unseat Paxton was hurt by his last name, and McCrory had baggage from his prior tenure as governor, while Kemp and Abbott had particularly strong records to run on. Campaigns matter: Chuck Edwards and his allies battered Cawthorn, and Brooks got a wake-up call from Trump’s abandonment that prompted him to run a big ad blitz down the stretch, while Perdue all but disappeared from the campaign trail near the end.
Republican voters, by and large, liked Donald Trump’s policy agenda, which outside of a harder line on immigration was more an evolution of than a revolutionary break in practice from the platforms and agendas of Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush. They also liked Trump’s combative attitude, and associated him with a willingness to fight for the policies they wanted in a way that “establishment” Republicans often failed to do. All of these attitudes are still out there, and they go a ways toward explaining why Trump’s endorsements are still influential in close races and those with big, wide-open fields of candidates. The idea that association with Trump or “Stop the Steal” or even January 6 would, overnight, become radioactive has not panned out.
But at the same time, Republican primary votes are no longer something Trump can just conjure up by pressing the Diet Coke button on his desk, if they ever were.
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