A Rebirth of Normalcy for the GOP and a Blue-Collar Hope for Dems?

Center Street PAC looks at Pennsylvania & North Carolina primary results

One immediate takeaway from Tuesday night’s primaries: incumbent extremist and former GOP “Rising Star,” Madison Cawthorn, will no longer be a congressman come Jan. 2, 2023. Bye Madison!

Meanwhile, Democrats have chosen their contender but we’re still waiting to see who will emerge as the GOP nominee for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, as the results are headed to an automatic recount.

But the bigger question seems to be: how big of a pull does extremism still have on the heart of the Republican Party?

Is the GOP Becoming “Post-Extremist”?

The answer to that is still a resounding no. However, with Madison Cawthorn’s loss and heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz holding on by a thin thread – 2,500 votes — over former hedge fund and slightly more extreme CEO David McCormick, some posited that the GOP electorate in some states might be starting to turn a corner.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. First let’s look at Pennsylvania. Trump- endorsed Oz appears to hold only marginally less extreme ideas than McCormick. But as there weren’t any non-MAGA candidates for voters to choose instead, we can’t learn much from that race.

However, in Ohio, a state with a makeup similar to Pennsylvania, results were more telling. Billionaire-backed former hedge fund manager (what’s with all the hedge fund insiders running for political office?) and America First extremist J.D. Vance pulled out a resounding victory. In that race, Republican voters did have a more traditional choice, in Matt Dolan. However, Dolan did surprise many by securing 23.3% of the votes, nearly even with the other America First candidate, Josh Mandel.

On CNN’s New Day yesterday morning, Joe Walsh cautioned against believing that extremism was on its way out in the Republican Party. Joe says many of these candidates are just two sides of the same coin, trying to figure out who can outdo whom when it comes to the “crazy.”

Do Democrats Have Hope?

For embattled Democrats, there was a shining ray of hope as tattoo-covered, former small city mayor and current Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman won a multi-way primary, giving Democrats a working-class hero, they haven’t had since the days of Bill Clinton. Fetterman, who could double as a multi-time WWE Wrestling Champion at 6’9”, easily handled his competition. He defeated Rep. Conor Lamb, despite suffering from a stroke the week before the primary (his wife says he is recovering well.) Democrats believe Fetterman’s working class demeanor and positions can resonate with Pennsylvania voters. He’s the kind of candidate that Democrats used to run, in the not- so-distant past.

A Return to Old School? For Dems, Maybe.

In their breakdown of the Pennsylvania Senate Primary results, The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“When Fetterman faces off against Oz or McCormick, it’ll offer Democrats a chance to upend recent narratives pitting elitist liberals against populist conservatives. This time, they’ll have the candidate from the Rust Belt with the everyman touch — albeit with his own Harvard degree — running against a wealthy rival who has long run in elite coastal circles.

And Democrats are eager to change sides in that argument.”

Let’s be honest. They should be. Democrats used to be the populist party, while Republicans were typically viewed as elitist. But in the last 10-15 years, the narrative has changed, and Republicans have capitalized. Remember the Tea Party? That movement was the first sign of change, and then Donald Trump and the MAGA movement expanded on it..

Politics has changed immensely since the Tea Party days. The “weak” establishment Republicans of the mid-2010s have been replaced by the brutish and conspiracy-laden, whereas the no-holds-barred, populist Democrats have become traditionalist, “every candidate has their turn” and possibly even soft.

Little Has Likely Changed

But if we’re being honest, this week’s primaries showed us little has changed since 2020 – so far anyway. Democrats have a candidate who seems more in touch with a more blue-collar party of old, but we still don’t know if the party overall is moving back toward the center a bit or if it’s still directed by the more progressive fringe.

Similarly, the primaries haven’t revealed much of a shift for GOP voters. Republicans are still voting for extremist candidates, but Cawthorn’s defeat could be a sign that they’d vote for someone else.

Cawthorn’s defeat came in large part because another Republican, Sen. Thom Tillis, got involved in trying to take him down. Tillis’ motivation likely was more of a personal beef with Cawthorn, as Cawthorn has accused Tillis of not being a “real conservative” on several occasions. But it’s worth taking note, for GOP politicians who decry the MAGA/America First movement behind closed doors, but pretend to support it in public. Perhaps if the electorate sees more Republicans stand up to extremism, they might start voting the extremists out. Just a thought.

For now, Republicans must figure out which 2020 election results denying candidate won their primary. (On the upside, all of a sudden, GOP voters want every ballot counted this time…)