Donald Trump has stubbed his toe by endorsing losers in three Republican gubernatorial primaries (in Nebraska, Idaho, and Georgia) so far this year, with the most painful defeat being Brian Kemp’s 52-point demolition of David Perdue in the Peach State. The ex-president has also had some misses in U.S. House primaries and in high-profile down-ballot races, like Brad Raffensperger’s win over Trump’s candidate Jody Hice, again in Georgia. But so far Trump has done nothing but win in Senate primaries. The MAGA success stories include Pennsylvania (Mehmet Oz), Ohio (J.D. Vance), North Carolina (Ted Budd), and Georgia (Herschel Walker). And now in Arizona, Trump has gone bold with an endorsement of venture capitalist and Peter Thiel disciple Blake Masters, perhaps his most extreme Senate favorite yet.
It’s easy to compare Masters to Vance. Both are loudly “populist” Trump fans. Both are favorites of Tucker Carlson. Both are venture capitalists by trade. Both have been heavily backed financially and personally by Silicon Valley eccentric Peter Thiel.
But while Vance is better known nationally thanks to his book Hillbilly Elegy and the movie based on it, Masters is arguably the real deal in terms of being the edgiest “national conservative” or “right-wing populist” or whatever you choose to call the toxic politics he shares with Vance, Carlson, Josh Hawley, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., and other MAGA demagogues. Vance got money from Thiel; Masters has idolized Thiel for years, co-wrote his book on start-ups, and currently runs his family foundation. Vance comes across as an intellectual dilettante dabbling in politics. Masters has the cold demeanor of a true fanatic. Vance is troubling. Masters is scary. This Masters campaign ad really says it all:
Like Thiel himself, Masters is an ex-libertarian who seems to have concluded that authoritarianism is the only guarantor of his idea of freedom. That makes him a natural ally of Trump and of the conservative extremists who now form the 45th president’s political entourage. Masters favors a national abortion ban, close to a complete immigration ban, a ban on teachers unions, and harsh anti-crime policies. He has opposed aid to Ukraine. But what clearly attracted Trump to his banner was Masters’s staunch support for his 2020 election fables in a state that actually undertook a post-election “audit” (to the great hilarity of non-MAGA observers everywhere). Masters resolutely maintains that Trump won the presidency and lost it by foul means. So he passed the most important test for the ex-president’s endorsement.
Trump’s decision was upsetting to his two most prominent rivals in the Arizona primary: Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who despite being quite Trumpy probably lost any chance of a nod from Mar-a-Lago by equivocating over the Arizona audit, and self-funding business executive Jim Lamon, who has sought to compare his own path into politics to Trump’s (though he was best known for utilizing the crude anti-Biden slogan “Let’s Go, Brandon!” in a campaign ad). Indeed, according to Axios, Lamon’s brownnosing of Trump in a personal meeting went awry:
Trump didn’t click with businessman Jim Lamon after they met in person at Mar-a-Lago, two sources familiar with their meeting told Axios.
Trump thought Lamon, who pushed his business bonafides, talked about himself too much, one of the sources said. He felt Lamon’s attempts to compare himself to Trump were “off-putting,” a third source explained to Axios.
Don’t compete with the boss, in other words.
It remains to be seen if Masters can emulate Vance’s post-Trump-endorsement rise to the GOP nomination between now and the August 2 primary (in which Trump has also endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, former news anchor Kari Lake). If he does, incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly awaits him in November. Kelly has been quietly stockpiling campaign contributions ($39 million as of March 31) and unifying Democrats (unlike his colleague Kyrsten Sinema, he has chosen a quiet and cooperative form of centrism) even as Republicans have gone on a MAGA bender. If Masters can actually ride a Republican midterm trend into the Senate, it will be a much stranger place, but Josh Hawley will no longer walk alone.
More on the Midterms
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- No, Ron DeSantis Isn’t the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan
- Why 2022’s Big Lesson for Democrats Might Be … Nothing