- Andrew Solender
- Alayna Treene
Republican incumbents and candidates facing competitive primaries are abandoning their pasts and turning to scorched-earth, socially focused campaigns to head off conservative rivals.
Why it matters: The trend underscores how former President Trump primed his base to demand GOP lawmakers mirror his aggressive tactics — and how his core voters are angrier than ever with him out of office.
A prime example is Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas), who ultimately ended his re-election bid in March after admitting to an extramarital affair.
- In recent cycles, Taylor was in a swing district and faced well-funded Democratic foes. He ran ads touting himself as “Mr. Bipartisan” and highlighting his legislative record — including a bill cracking down on domestic violence.
- But after redistricting this year, with a safe GOP district and the only serious threat to his right, he ran an ad called “Battlefield.”
- It said “The Swamp” was going after him for “standing up to the radical left” and “fighting the woke mob and vaccine mandates.”
The backstory: A member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Taylor faced heat in his district for breaking with GOP leadership and voting in favor of a commission to investigate Jan. 6.
- That spawned several credible right-wing primary challenges before his personal digression killed his candidacy.
The big picture: Taylor’s kind of Trump-channeling has been replicated across the country by Republican incumbents facing Trump-inspired primary challenges.
- Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), a member of the moderate Republican Governance Group, got drawn into a district with Trump-endorsed Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.). He said later in a statement he’s a “conservative who gets things done.”
- Davis also went further: Miller, he said, is “all talk, no action.” He blasted her for voting with the “far-left Squad” on a defense appropriations bill and backing a “Never Trump ticket” for Illinois governor.
- Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), a low-key senator facing a right-wing opponent in former NFL player Jake Bequette, is running ads featuring Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The prominent conservative firebrand dubs Boozman “our conservative fighter.”
What they’re saying: “Ads are reflective of where the voters are, and the voters are angry,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Chris Hartline told Axios.
- “They’re angry about inflation, gas prices, Afghanistan, but also about school closures and mask mandates.”
Go deeper: Some GOP Senate primaries feature multiple candidates with moderate backgrounds trying to refashion themselves as the most Trump-aligned culture-war crusaders.
- In Pennsylvania, TV personality Mehmet Oz was once a John McCain donor and self-described moderate. Now, with Trump’s endorsement, he’s campaigning as a “conservative who will put America first,” and declaring, “I won’t be canceled.”
- His main opponent, David McCormick, voiced support for Black Lives Matter and championed diversity and inclusion efforts while CEO of Bridgewater Associates. Yet in his first ad, McCormick pledged to “fight the woke mob hijacking America’s future.”
- In Ohio, venture capitalist J.D. Vance kicked off his campaign with an apology tour for his past criticism of Trump. He now enjoys Trump’s endorsement, as well as those of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
- Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel — a one-time rising GOP star who McCain said in 2012 had a “very centrist approach to issues” — is now running one of the most Trumpy, culture war-focused campaigns in the country.
The other side: Some Republican moderates have opted to leave politics altogether rather than dabble in this new style of politics.
- Former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake famously condemned Trump in his 2017 resignation speech on the Senate floor, declaring: “Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough.”
- Several Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment also have announced their retirement in the face of Trump-backed primary challenges.