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Washington Wednesday - Trump tug-of-war


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday - Trump tug-of-war

What do the midterm primaries say about the former president’s ongoing influence?

Republican Senate candidate JD Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, April 23, 2022, in Delaware, Ohio. Joe Maiorana/Associated Press Photo

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 11th of May, 2022. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Up first: the midterm battle is underway.

Only six months remain before Americans return to the polls to decide control of Congress and many other things in this year’s midterm elections.

EICHER: And the primary election season is underway, too. Already, several states have cast their ballots—Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.

What do those elections, and other primary votes, ahead tell us about we might expect in November?

Joining us now to talk about it is Mark Caleb Smith. He’s a political science professor at Cedarville University, a Christian university in Cedarville, Ohio.

REICHARD: Good morning!

MARK CALEB SMITH, GUEST: It’s my pleasure to be with you.

REICHARD: Well, Professor as we said you’re in Ohio, so it makes sense to start there.

I thought it was interesting to see Republican J.D. Vance defeat six others to advance and now face off with Democrat Tim Ryan for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Seems like Vance really did benefit from the endorsement of President Donald Trump. Was that the crucial difference? What can you tell us about that?

SMITH: The contest was really quite interesting in Ohio as you might expect. JD Vance, the best selling author of the Hillbilly Elegy, and then became, of course, a venture capitalist. He's a Yale educated lawyer. As many of your listeners probably know, he was a fierce critic of Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016. But when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat, excuse me, he started to angle pretty hard for Trump's endorsement. And that really seemed to catapult Vance in the polls. Donald Trump Jr. came to campaign with Vance and other figures of Donald Trump's orbit came. And he ended up winning relatively comfortably with over 30 percent of the vote in a pretty crowded field.

I think the big takeaway from that race was, honestly, when you consolidate the field, strong Trump supporters won more than two thirds of the vote in that Republican Party campaign. And so I think Donald Trump's influence over the GOP in Ohio is still quite strong. On the Democratic side, it was much less eventful. Tim Ryan, the expected nominee, won handily. And so those two will square off in November.

REICHARD: And as I understand it, JD Vance appears to have the upper hand against Tim Ryan, is that correct?

SMITH: I would say that’s true. Ohio has been tilting pretty hard to the right over the last decade or more. Ryan has some possibilities ahead of him. He's gonna campaign sort of as a middle class, blue collar sort of candidate, I believe. He's going to appeal for manufacturing jobs and he's going to argue about China and things of that nature. But I expect Vance to lean pretty hard into the culture war issues. And right now, I think those are playing quite well in Ohio. So yeah, I think Vance is clearly the favorite.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about Texas now. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is Republican, was forced into a runoff election with Land Commissioner George P. Bush to be held later this month. But that doesn’t mean the vote was close. Paxton finished with a 20-point edge. Mark, is it reasonable to think that the Bush name no longer carries much weight within the GOP?

SMITH: It’s a really remarkable story, isn’t it? George P. Bush, the grandson of a Republican president, the nephew of a Republican president, still really not enough of a legacy to make a huge splash in that statewide race in Texas. So I think it's safe to say that right now being a Bush is not a net positive the way that it was 10 years ago, much less 20 years ago, in our country. There's been a struggle within the Republican Party—I think it's pretty clear to say—over the identity of the party. Is it where the insurgents and people like Donald Trump are winning? I think that's clearly the case right now. To some extent, I think it's fair to say that Donald Trump and his followers are now the establishment within the Republican Party. And people like George P. Bush just simply have a harder time fitting in.

REICHARD: Well, let’s look at that Trump influence more closely now. Some people are looking at these primary races at least some of them as a litmus test of Donald Trump’s influence. Trump did support Paxton in Texas and so far has had a good success rate with candidates that he has supported.

But in Georgia, different story. Trump is backing former Senator David Perdue against sitting Governor Brian Kemp. And right now, polls show Kemp with a double-digit lead.

So some analysts see these elections as a test of Trump’s remaining influence. But isn’t it also true that local elections are affected by local issues? Mark, how are those sometimes competing dynamics playing out in these big races everyone is watching?

SMITH: The conventional wisdom for a long time has been that, of course, all politics is local. We think of Tip O'Neill's famous statement. I think now we're tempted to view all politics as national. In reality, I think right now neither one of those are necessarily accurate. And I think as your question implies, politics is always sort of a combination of those things, and we look at a campaign, it's going to have a national dynamic to it most likely. It’s going to have some local element to it, especially when we're looking at a statewide office like governor or U.S. Senate, or something like that. So there's always going to be a combination of different dynamics at work, and what takes place in Ohio is going to be very disconnected from what takes place in a place like Georgia, for those reasons as well. I do think that it's safe to say, though, now that national issues are having more of an influence on state and local elections than they did before. Primarily, I think, because for many people, the news that they digest tends to be from a national platform as opposed to a local platform. And so the issues that are so prevalent in national politics become talking points in local elections and statewide elections also. I'm not sure that's good for the country, in some ways, but I think that's clearly the direction that we're headed.

REICHARD: What do you see as the most interesting and most telling races to watch this year in regards to the Trump influence?

SMITH: You mentioned Georgia before. I think Georgia really is kind of ground zero for this discussion about Donald Trump's influence, for a couple of reasons. Georgia was really the place that Trump seemed to put the most intense, direct pressure on elected officials over the 2020 election results, whether it was Kemp or whether it was Raffensperger, who was the Secretary of State there. They both came under extensive pressure from Trump and his supporters to intervene in the 2020 presidential election. They both refused to do that. And Trump has really gone out of his way to try to punish both of them as a result. So I think those elections are going to be interesting to watch. I think the Secretary of State's race between Brad Raffensperger, who's defending that seat, and then Jody Hice, who's a U.S. Representative who is challenging him, I think may be one of the most interesting races of the year. Not as high profile as the gubernatorial campaign, of course, but also, I think, an important battle between Trump and people who are trying to hold on to a different understanding of the GOP, as well as a different understanding of what happened in 2020.

REICHARD: Let’s go back to Texas for a moment. Both GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke easily cruised to their nominations. Democrats have long dreamed of turning Texas blue or at least purple. Do you think this is the year they do that? How do you see that gubernatorial race playing out?

SMITH: I think that Abbott has to be considered the favorite here. He's an incumbent, obviously, and that carries with it particular kinds of advantages, which he will utilize for sure. I also think that Beto O'Rourke is probably not as strong of a candidate as he was when he challenged Ted Cruz. So I think Abbott is clearly in the lead. Let's go back to the question you asked before. These national trends and state and local trends all sort of flowing, I think it's safe to say that the political climate, nationally speaking, is running against the Democrats. And so I think this will help someone like Greg Abbott. He's going to talk about inflation. He's going to talk about the economy. He's going to talk about the border. And those issues are going to play toward Republican voters I think. And so it's I think it's a really difficult for Beto O'Rourke to really pull that off.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about demographics now. It’s really interesting. One thing Democrats were counting on in years past as they hoped to flip Texas their way… was the growth of the Hispanic population in that state. But they haven’t been able to count on the Hispanic vote. And in fact that vote might be shifting to the Republicans.

It was really interesting in Newsweek, Darvio Morrow at Newsweek had an interesting piece recently about the changing demographics of the Democratic party. He said Democrats aren’t just losing Hispanic voters but black voters too.

Mark, why are the demographics changing for both parties? How do you see the future of each?

SMITH: Not long ago we were talking in political science circles about demographics being destiny, that there is almost some sort of an iron law that once a demographic event started to happen, the political results would just sort of flow from that. And so as minority populations—African Americans, Hispanics—became a majority in our country, the thought was that this would irrevocably change our politics and the Democratic Party would benefit. But that view, I think, assumes a static nature of politics that just doesn't really seem true to history. Parties change, issues evolve, groups change over time, as well, they become more diverse. And so it's not unusual to see significant transformations occur within a demographic group. A good example would be white Southerners who transferred from the Democratic loyalty to strong Republican loyalty over the span of a generation or a little bit more than a generation. African Americans were staunchly Republican, and then fragmented toward the Democratic Party and eventually realigned fully into the Democratic Party. So I don't think you can assume anything about Hispanic voters or other voters moving into the future. I think it's safe to say, though, that the issue for the Democrats at the moment is that socially speaking, they are not really appealing to a variety of African American and Hispanic interests. And so discussions of gender and sexuality, discussions of defunding the police and things like that—regardless of whether you think those issues are critically important for politics or not—I think that they're really creating some fractures within those minority communities, and are going to erode Democratic support. And so what you're looking at now, I think, is tension within the Democratic Party between white progressives on the one hand, and then Hispanic and African American who are a little bit more conservative, socially speaking, on the other. And so those groups are going to compete within the Democratic Party. And I suspect the Republicans will benefit from that competition.

REICHARD: Mark Caleb Smith from Cedarville University. Professor, thanks so much!

SMITH: My pleasure.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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