A pri­mary elec­tion les­son for GOP: Don’t cross Trump

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION&WORLD2 -

WASH­ING­TON — Don’t cross Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

That’s the les­son be­ing learned by Repub­li­cans after Rep. Mark San­ford, R-S.C., a vo­cif­er­ous Trump critic, lost his pri­mary elec­tion in South Carolina hours after the pres­i­dent tweeted that he was “very un­help­ful.”

It’s a cau­tion­ary tale for Repub­li­cans in Congress as they try to win elec­tions by show­ing loy­alty to Trump sup­port­ers while also main­tain­ing some in­de­pen­dence as mem­bers of a co-equal branch of govern­ment.

One wrong turn — or in San­ford’s case, many — and they could en­dure the wrath of a pres­i­dent who is quick to at­tack de­trac­tors as en­e­mies, even those from his own party. A sin­gle pres­i­den­tial tweet can doom a ca­reer.

San­ford is the sec­ond in­cum­bent House Repub­li­can to lose a pri­mary this year — and the lat­est vic­tim of in­tense di­vi­sions among the GOP in the Trump era.

The pres­i­dent took a vic­tory lap on Twit­ter early Wed­nes­day, tout­ing his suc­cess in oust­ing a foe and re­in­forc­ing, once again, that the Repub­li­can Party is Trump’s party now.

“My political rep­re­sen­ta­tives didn’t want me to get in­volved in the Mark San­ford pri­mary think­ing that San­ford would eas­ily win — but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good can­di­date, and San­ford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Con­grats to Katie Ar­ring­ton!” the pres­i­dent tweeted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., down­played the riff Wed­nes­day and said there’s al­ways go­ing to be winners and losers dur­ing pri­mary sea­son.

“That’s just what hap­pens in con­tested pri­maries,” said the speaker, who is re­tir­ing.

Others, though, said it’s an up-close ex­am­ple of how not to pub­licly crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent over dif­fer­ences.

A Trump ally, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., of­fered ad­vice to fel­low GOP law­mak­ers: Say some­thing nice to the pres­i­dent be­fore you bring him your com­plaints.

“I would start by prais­ing the pres­i­dent — what he’s do­ing in North Korea, what he’s done on tax re­form, what he’s done with the Supreme Court ... and then say, ‘But here’s an is­sue in my lo­cal area where I have some dis­agree­ment or I’d like to be some­thing dif­fer­ent,’” Collins said.

He said talk­ing to Trump should be like in­ter­ac­tions with your spouse or chil­dren when you have a prob­lem that needs air­ing. Start with niceties be­fore bring­ing up the trou­ble spots, “as op­posed to just com­ing out with smash­mouth football.”

House Repub­li­cans oth­er­wise were up­beat Wed­nes­day after pri­mary elec­tions in sev­eral states as they met be­hind closed doors to dis­cuss the com­ing midterms.

“It’s not like peo­ple live in fear of the White House,” of­fered Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a veteran GOP strate­gist. “You have to han­dle all your dif­fer­ences with any­body pro­fes­sion­ally, and hope for the best.”

A Demo­cratic win in a Wis­con­sin spe­cial elec­tion Tues­day has the party within strik­ing dis­tance of re­cap­tur­ing the state Se­nate and end­ing Gov. Scott Walker and his fel­low Repub­li­cans’ hold on state govern­ment, a pri­or­ity for Democrats na­tion­ally as an­other round of re­dis­trict­ing nears.

Many in the party ac­knowl­edge over­look­ing lo­cal races for years, and they’re now fight­ing to claw back at least a share of power in as many states as pos­si­ble to thwart an­other round of Repub­li­can map-draw­ing.

The Na­tional Demo­cratic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee, run by for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder, spent at least $35,000 sup­port­ing Caleb Frost­man, the win­ning can­di­date in Tues­day’s spe­cial Se­nate elec­tion.

Wis­con­sin Democrats have spent the last eight years on the side­lines after Repub­li­cans took over the gov­er­nor’s office and both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture in 2011. It is among a hand­ful of states where Democrats think they can flip con­trol in at least one house, along with Colorado, Con­necti­cut, Maine and New Hamp­shire.


U.S. Rep. Mark San­ford hugged his sons Tues­day after ad­dress­ing sup­port­ers at Lib­erty Tap Room in Mount Pleas­ant, S.C.

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