Trump flexes mus­cle in GOP pri­mary races

San­ford’s loss a cau­tion­ary tale for his crit­ics

Houston Chronicle - - NEWS MAKERS -

WASH­ING­TON — Don’t cross Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

That’s the les­son be­ing learned by Repub­li­cans after Trump critic and GOP Rep. Mark San­ford 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 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 said on Twit­ter.

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

“This hap­pens,” said the speaker, who is re­tir­ing rather than seek re­elec­tion. “That’s just what hap­pens in con­tested pri­maries.”

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 start with niceties be­fore bring­ing up the trou­ble spots, “as op­posed to just com­ing out with smash­mouth football.”

“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.”


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