One Good Primary Night Doesn’t Signal a Moderate Comeback


A few Trump endorsees lost primaries, but one of his prize extremist protégées, Lauren Boebert, won easily.
Photo: AAron Ontivero/Denver Post/Getty Images

Elections Daily’s Eric Cunningham summed up a lot of the sentiment about the primary elections on June 25 with the headline “Revenge of the Moderates.” He explained:

The death of centrism may [be] greatly exaggerated. In last night’s primaries across Colorado, New York, South Carolina, and Utah, voters from both parties revolted against extremist candidates on both sides of the aisle in favor of moderate candidates.

That’s a bit of a startling assertion, given the generally polarized tenor of the 2024 election cycle, so it’s worth examining. The marquee contest of the night, and the most expensive U.S. House primary ever, was in New York, where Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman lost decisively to Westchester County executive George Latimer. Yes, Bowman was a prominent member of “the Squad,” and indeed, Latimer’s campaign criticized him for inadequate party loyalty. But the overriding issue in this contest wasn’t progressive versus moderate ideology in general, but Bowman’s outspoken hostility to Israel, or, as he once called it, the “settler colonialist project.” He was a clumsy politician grotesquely ill suited for a district with a sizable Jewish Democratic voting population that was easy to mobilize to oust him. The pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC saw an opening, and the super-PAC aligned with it spent massively — almost redundantly — to gain the win. There was nothing especially “moderate” about Bowman’s predictable defenestration.

Meanwhile, after 255 Republican primary endorsements in 2024, Trump finally had some losers: three, to be precise. One was in a Senate race in Utah, long a bastion of Trump-skeptic if not exactly “moderate” Republicans. The champion of that conservative if not MAGA tribe in the Beehive State, Mitt Romney, is retiring from the Senate this year, and he backed Representative John Curtis, who unlike Romney has endorsed the 45th president’s 2024 bid. But Trump endorsed (and the MAGA-dominated state party backed) suburban mayor Trent Staggs for the Senate seat, and as expected, he lost to Curtis.

Even less surprisingly, Trump endorsee Mark Burns narrowly lost a congressional primary in South Carolina to conservative activist Sheri Biggs, who was backed by Trump buddy Governor Henry McMaster and other key state officials. Burns is a flamboyant televangelist who earned Trump’s endorsement by backing him early in 2016, when Black MAGA figures were few and far between. Burns has sparked some controversy in the past for questionable biographic claims and shaky campaign-financing practices. He only won a third of the vote in the first round of primary balloting (on a day when Trump endorsees won two other highly competitive congressional primaries in the Palmetto State). So Biggs winning wasn’t a shocker, particularly since her campaign website describes her as a “Conservative Christian, Pro-Life, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Trump Republican.”

The most decisive loss of a Trump endorsee occurred in Colorado, where highly controversial state party chair Dave Williams was trounced by “conservative activist and commentator” Jeff Crank in a primary for an open Republican-held U.S. House seat. But Williams’s radioactive status was his own doing, not Trump’s, as Colorado Politics recently explained:

A move to fire Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dave Williams following the state GOP’s attacks on Pride Month gained steam Monday as a dozen county Republican parties added their names to a list of petitioners calling on state party officials to force Williams from office …

Williams, a candidate in this month’s primary for the El Paso County-based seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, told Colorado Politics he relishes the chance to defend the state party’s recent messages targeting the LGBTQ community, including a mass email titled “God Hates Pride” and a call for supporters to “burn all the Pride flags.”

Williams also infuriated many local Republicans by pushing the state party to make a host of primary endorsements, abandoning its traditions of neutrality in such contests. His vanquisher Crank calls himself a “conservative fighter” and was endorsed by Trump crony and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson and by the PAC of the extremist anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. A “moderate” he is not.

Meanwhile, in the same state, a Trump endorsee whose conservative extremism is unimpeachable, Lauren Boebert, easily defeated a host of rivals after carpetbagging her way into a safer Republican district than the one she has represented for the past four years.

All in all, Trump didn’t have a good night, but his mastery of the GOP should not be questioned, and the Republican politicians who defeated his endorsees are all putting themselves into the MAGA-party harness for November. As for the Squad, two other members (Cori Bush of Missouri and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota) are still facing tough primary challenges — with AIPAC playing heavily in both races — but any “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” is definitely playing second fiddle to the unified effort to give Biden another term. No matter what Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Nicole Shanahan fatuously say about a Democratic-Republican “uniparty,” Team Polarization is the reigning champ of U.S. politics for the foreseeable future.

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