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