As we near the end of the 2022 primary season, all ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in February 2021 for instigating the January 6 insurrection have either announced their retirement or faced primary voters. All four retirees (Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Fred Upton of Michigan) ended their congressional careers under significant political duress. Four other impeachers were defeated in their primaries (in order of their demises, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, and Liz Cheney of Wyoming). Two of the ten, David Valadao of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington, survived their primaries and will face voters again in November.
What was the secret of survival for Valadao and Newhouse? Well, neither of them made anti-Trump animus a hallmark of their congressional service since voting for impeachment. Both are running in blue states where they aren’t the intense focus of local conservative media. Valadao’s Trumpy Republican primary opponent couldn’t get a Trump endorsement. And Newhouse also got lucky with his would-be MAGA purger, as Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman reported before Washington’s primary:
Newhouse’s biggest advantage is probably [ex-police chief Loren] Culp’s ineptitude. Culp, who refused to concede the 2020 governor’s race despite losing by 545,000 votes, has raised just $300,000 to Newhouse’s $1.5 million despite Trump’s support. Newhouse is also benefiting from $620,000 in ads by the pro-moderate Defending Main Street PAC casting Culp as a serial tax cheat, as well as election conspiracy theorist/state Rep. Brad Klippert siphoning MAGA Votes.
Both Valadao and Newhouse barely edged out their MAGA challengers, as it happens. But they have something else in common: They both ran in nonpartisan top-two primaries in which they were able to appeal to non-Trump independents and even some Democrats. Indeed, the fate of Valadao and Newhouse is probably the best positive evidence we’ve seen yet for the long-claimed anti-polarization virtues of nonpartisan primaries, though it was just one of multiple factors in the outcomes. It’s clearly not some sort of universal law that systems like California’s and Washington’s top-two primaries offer salvation to “centrists.” Look no further than Newhouse’s Washington colleague Herrera Beutler, who lost a general-election spot to Trump endorsee Joe Kent in a more competitive district than Newhouse’s.
There is one other relevant witness to the flexibility offered by nonpartisan primary systems: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican senator who voted to convict in Trump’s 2021 impeachment trial and is up for reelection this year. On August 17, the same day Cheney was absolutely obliterated in a traditional closed-party primary, Murkowski took advantage of her state’s new top-four nonpartisan primary to win an easy ticket to November. With 71 percent of the votes reporting, she led Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka by about four points in the primary, with a Democrat and another Republican far behind. In November, the four finalists will appear on a ranked-choice ballot in which voters can express secondary preferences, with the winner determined as the fourth- and third-placing candidates are eliminated and their votes reallocated to reflect the new matchups. Murkowski is the early favorite to prevail precisely because Democrats choosing between her and Tshibaka in the final round are likely to favor the impeachment-supporting incumbent.
Right now, Newhouse is the one impeachment supporter you’d want to place a real bet on in November. That’s largely because of the Republican complexion of his district: It’s rated 11 points more Republican than the average congressional district by the Cook Political Report, while Valadao’s is rated five points more Democratic than average. All in all, the MAGA revenge on the impeachers has been pretty effective, but election systems that facilitate broader coalitions in primaries have offered some protection to the GOP heretics this year.
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