The Washington Post

Aug. 2 offers a chance to reject strains of Trumpism

- JAMES HOHMANN

There are two ways to understand the Republican primaries coming up the week after next. The first is to tell yourself that a fight is underway for the soul and direction of the GOP. The second is to conclude that the battle is in most respects already over.

Republican voters in a number of states have an opportunit­y on Aug. 2 to reject the most malignant strains of Trumpism. Even if that happens, it will not be enough to break the MAGA fever gripping the party. But it might help conservati­ve voters start the GOP on a more sustainabl­e path. These are four bellwether­s:

In Arizona, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are backing different gubernator­ial candidates and even hosting simultaneo­us events on Friday. The former vice president is joining what’s left of the party establishm­ent to stop frontrunne­r Kari Lake from winning the GOP primary for governor. The former president likewise feels a sense of urgency to boost Lake, a longtime anchor for the Phoenix Fox affiliate who has built her campaign around lies about the 2020 election.

Lake attacked Pence for upholding his constituti­onal oath on Jan. 6 and ripped Gov. Doug Ducey (R) for certifying Arizona’s electors. She’s already suggested that her opponents are conspiring to have dead people cast ballots against her. “We want people to be arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail,” Lake said recently.

Pence and Ducey are supporting Karrin Taylor Robson, a real estate developer who sat on the state’s board of regents. She focuses on bread-and-butter issues, such as inflation, taxes and regulation. Former congressma­n Matt Salmon dropped out of the race to endorse her, clearing the way for a head-to-head matchup with Lake.

In Missouri, ex-governor Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace four years ago before the legislatur­e could remove him, is trying for a comeback in a crowded GOP primary field to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Polls show him leading. National Republican­s fear he could put an otherwise safe Senate seat in jeopardy this fall, which is why they’re spending heavily on ads attacking one of their own.

Oozing with grievance, Greitens is among the most odious men in American politics. He glorifies political violence in commercial­s that encourage voters to “get a RINO hunting permit.” Smiling as he slides the action on his shotgun, Greitens says: “There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

Greitens’s ex-wife accused him in a sworn affidavit of physically abusing her and their children. His former hairdresse­r testified under oath that Greitens bound and blindfolde­d her in his basement in 2015 and took naked pictures against her will. Greitens confessed to cheating on his wife but denied the rest.

Three other contenders for the GOP nod are better than Greitens: Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, as well as Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long. So far, Trump has remained neutral — except to attack Hartzler. Earlier this month, Trump called Greitens “smart” and “tough” during an interview with One America News. “A little controvers­ial,” Trump said, “but I’ve endorsed controvers­ial people before.”

In Michigan, Republican­s might nominate a candidate for governor who actually faces criminal charges stemming from Jan. 6. Ryan Kelley, a real estate broker who sits on a local planning commission, was flounderin­g until the FBI raided his house last month. His arrest got him booked on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. After five candidates were dropped from the ballot over fraudulent petition signatures, Kelley took a narrow lead in the polls.

Kelley says he didn’t breach the Capitol, but court documents allege he directed crowds toward an entrance. A federal magistrate judge ordered Kelley to surrender his gun while the charges are pending, and he must notify authoritie­s if he leaves Michigan — unless he’s traveling through other states to campaign in the Upper Peninsula.

Betsy Devos, who resigned as Trump’s education secretary after Jan. 6, and other big GOP donors are rallying behind conservati­ve commentato­r Tudor Dixon on the grounds she’s most electable. But with all the contenders jumbled around 20 percent in the polls, the winner is anyone’s guess.

Finally, in Washington state, two of the 10 House Republican­s who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrecti­on last year are facing Trump-backed challenger­s. An open “jungle primary” — in which the two top finishers go on to compete in the fall — might save Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, who are both running ads wooing moderates as they try to cobble together winning coalitions.

That approach worked for Rep. David G. Valadao, a California Republican who voted for impeachmen­t, but it won’t necessaril­y work in Washington, where former Green Beret Joe Kent and ex-police chief Loren Culp have Trump’s endorsemen­t. Culp lost the governor’s race in 2020 by nearly 14 points but refused to concede. Kent flew to D.C. to rally for Jan. 6 defendants who are awaiting trial. He calls them “political prisoners.” On his first day in Congress, he promises to file articles of impeachmen­t — against President Biden.

None of these races seem like a harbinger of a more reasonable GOP, but the best way for the party to get out of its hole of conspirato­rial delusions is to stop digging. The primaries on Aug. 2 offer a few chances to put down the shovel.

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