The Good, Bad, and Very Ugly
Breaking down last night's elections.
My colleague, Bill Kristol, weighs in on the last 24 hours:
Good: Republicans cave as Congress passes health care for veterans, Pelosi goes to Taiwan, Zawahari dead, and the grand jury subpoenas Pat Cippolone.
Not so bad, or at least better than the alternative: Eric Schmitt beats Eric Greitens in MO.
Bad: Peter Meijer defeated in MI primary.
Really, really ugly: ARIZONA. What's in the water out there?
Team Bulwark was up late last night, digging through the rubble of Tuesday’s election results. We’re still waiting on some late returns, but here are the clear toplines:
Huge victory for abortion rights advocates in ruby-red Kansas. (See Amanda Carpenter and Will Saletan below).
Election deniers scored wins across the country.
Democrats got their wish in Michigan, where pro-impeachment GOP Rep. Peter Meijer was defeated by MAGAite nutball John Gibbs. The cynical Dems who played with fire may live to regret it. ICYMI:
As Bill remarks above, Arizona went full batshit. Conspiracist Kari Lake is leading the GOP primary for governor; Peter Thiel-backed Blake Masters easily won the GOP primary for senate; a Trump-backed election denier won the nomination for Arizona secretary of state. And Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona house who testified before the January 6 committee lost his primary Tuesday.
Thank God for jungle primaries. (See Tim Miller below).
In case you were in any doubt, it’s still Trump’s party.
Our team takes a deeper dive into the night’s big stories:
Big Red State Abortion Win For Democrats
AMANDA CARPENTER: Kansas Republicans did pretty much everything possible to rig the nation’s first post-Dobbs statewide referendum to ban abortion in their favor. They scheduled the vote on an August summer Tuesday where mostly only competitive GOP primaries were on the ballot. They wrote the language in a vague, hard-to-decipher manner. And, they sent misleading text messages to voters telling them that a vote “YES” would protect “reproductive choice” when, in reality, it would allow the state to ban abortion outright.
Also, keep in mind, Kansas is a state that went for Trump over Biden by more than 14 points in 2020. That all goes to say, the odds were firmly stacked in their favor.
Despite all this, the constitutional amendment to ban abortion ended in a stunning defeat. At the time of his writing, with 95 percent of the vote counted, the measure was defeated by nearly 18 points. More important, turnout for the election was incredibly high–more than double the voters were cast Tuesday than they were in the 2018 primary. Voter turnout in the state’s most populous county, Johnson County, soared to 53.65 percent.
In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, Democrats vowed pro-choice voters would turn out in droves to protect abortion rights. The Kansas primary is the first time that theory was tested. Judging by these numbers, it appears to be entirely correct, even in a ruby red Trump state.
WILL SALETAN: Kansas has delivered a blow to the anti-abortion movement. And it has done so with a lot of Republican votes.
Tuesday’s primary ballot in Kansas included a measure that would have allowed the state’s lawmakers to restrict abortion. By early Wednesday morning, with more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure was losing by nearly 60 percent to 40 percent.
But that’s not the big story. The big story is the turnout.
The ballot measure was supposed to be helped by the timing of the vote. It was put on the ballot for primary day, not for the general election. In Kansas, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by almost 2 to 1, and Republican primaries are more heavily contested than Democratic primaries. So turnout was expected to be a lot healthier on the Republican side.
Theoretically, that should have helped the ballot measure.
But look at the numbers. As expected, turnout in the Republican gubernatorial primary was much higher than in the Democratic primary—roughly 450,000 to 275,000, with some precincts still to be counted. But turnout on the ballot measure blew those numbers away. More than 900,000 people voted on the abortion question. Even if you assume that everyone who voted in the Democratic gubernatorial primary also voted for the ballot measure, that leaves more than 250,000 “no” votes—roughly half the “no” constituency—that didn’t come from Democrats. And even if every “yes” vote on the ballot measure came from a Republican, that leaves at least 75,000 people who voted in the GOP gubernatorial primary but didn’t support the ballot measure.
This wasn’t just a backlash from the left or the center-left. It’s a warning that Republicans are divided on abortion
The Sane Mirage + 3 Cheers for Jungle Primaries
TIM MILLER: Around 11ET I had drafted a sunny little ditty for the newsletter. The Biden agenda and the Trump impeachers were alive while Al-Zawahiri and Kari Lake were dead.
Alas, as the night wore on it was revealed that the sanity was a merely an early vote mirage. Peter Meijer's lead in the MI-3 congressional race was erased, as the election day vote in Michigan heavily favored the pro-insurrection challenger John Gibbs,
While the votes continue to be counted in Arizona, the same trend apparently put Kari Lake over the top in the state's gubernatorial race.
Think of how crazy that is for a second. The Republican base is so detached from reality that a majority segment no longer trusts the mail. As a result the disparity between the early vote and the election day count in some places was as much as 40 points! This is madness!
There was a small green shoot in Washington, where the top-2 jungle primary system protected both of that states pro-impeachment Republicans, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse. It is likely that once all the primaries are done it will only be Herrera-Beutler, Newhouse, and California's David Valadao who survive among the pro-impeachment house Republicans.
All 3 went through a jungle primary, which is the best argument for moving to that system nationwide that I can imagine.
Peter Meijer’s Rightful Gripe
AMANDA CARPENTER: The extra dash of salt in Peter Meijer’s loss to the Trump-backed John Gibbs are the dollars the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent to make it happen.
Likely sensing, at best, a close election, Meijer warned in a Common Sense post the night before the primary that those Democrat dollars could easily put his opponent over the edge. Meijer wrote:
In one of many such naked political gambits aimed at elevating the weaker Republican candidate ahead of the November midterm elections, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched a $435,000 ad buy to promote the election-denying Gibbs in the final days leading up to our primary.
This is not an insignificant amount of money for the Gibbs campaign, nor is it an insignificant act by Democrats.
The DCCC’s ad buy was more than Gibbs raised over the entire duration of his campaign. It was also nearly 100x the support Donald Trump himself offered to Gibbs (a single $5,000 contribution from the Save America Super PAC). In other words, the Democrats are not merely attempting to boost a candidate over the finish line: They are subsidizing his entire campaign.
Missouri GOP Primary: An Awkward Ending to an Embarrassing Race
JIM SWIFT in this morning’s Bulwark:
While entertaining, Trump’s late endorsement of generic ERIC likely made little difference. Schmitt had already largely wrapped things up by the time he received his phone call from Mar-a-Lago. In his position as AG, he was known for cynical, costly, losing lawsuits against targets ranging from Missouri school districts to the Communist Party of China—the former for typical culture war issues and the latter for “[its] role in the COVID-19 pandemic.” The stunt-litigation strategy kept Schmitt constantly in the public’s eye. Here’s hoping his office’s resources weren’t needed elsewhere during his, um, forward-looking tenure.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin…
My friend James Wigderson, an exceptionally keen observer of local politics, has started a new newsletter that’s very much worth your time.
Since the 2018 election, [Mandela] Barnes has been working hard to put the "lightweight" in "Lt" including endorsing "defunding the police," calling for the end of cash bail, posing with a t-shirt calling for the abolition of immigration enforcement, openly posing with (and receiving their endorsements) the furthest left reaches of the Democratic Party, and endorsing the Green New Deal.
To give you an idea of how bad Barnes is on the campaign trail, he explained his "defund the police" position by actually sounding worse.
“We need to invest more in neighborhood services and programming for our residents, for our communities on the front end,” Barnes said in an interview on PBS' Here and Now. “Where will that money come from? Well, it can come from over-bloated budgets in police departments.”
Barnes might want to invest some of his "over-bloated" campaign fund on a few focus groups to test that statement.
If Wisconsin were Illinois, this wouldn't matter.
But Barnes will be running in gale force political headwinds here. His current boss, Gov. Tony Evers, is running for re-election with the background of plywood window storefronts and Burning Kenosha behind him. Meanwhile, it's also a midterm election with unpopular and lackluster Democratic President Joe Biden presiding over an inflationary economy, a mixed foreign policy, and a possible recession (your definition may vary).
I'll grant that Johnson is an awful incumbent. The Republican Party has moved from Paul Ryan to paranoia, and Johnson is following the Yellow Brick Road to Crazy Town. From stating the Covid vaccine causes AIDS to being the conduit for President Donald Trump's fake elector scheme, Johnson has made himself the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country. Barnes actually slightly led Johnson in a head-to-head comparison in June.
But while Johnson is unpopular, he's running in a midterm election against the Democratic opponent he most desired. Johnson has come from behind before and this time he benefits from an 18-percentage-point Republican advantage in voter enthusiasm, according to the latest national Marquette Law School poll.
Ladies and gentlemen, the GOP nominee for Arizona governor: