YESTERDAY’S PRIMARIES HAVE MEANING

Yesterday there were primaries in five states, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Washington. One thing that those party elections demonstrate is that our two long-lasting political parties have oddly parallel problems. Both parties are split. The historic Republican Party faces a Trumpian minority which clearly threatens the party’s continued existence. The Democrats, traditionally liberal, find themselves challenged by a very progressive movement of young members most identified in the public mind with young women of “the Squad”.

The Trumpian minority’s goal is to move backward to perhaps roughly the political world of the 1920’s. The Progressive’s goal is to move forward toward the political world now enjoyed by the Scandinavian countries. Yesterday’s primaries were a kind of test. In Kansas, traditional Republicans reduced their chances of future defeat. In St. Louis and in Detroit the progressive Democrats showed that they could survive to fight again in November.

The Republican Party is now made up of a larger, more diverse group of traditional Republicans and a, perhaps smaller, group who fervently support Donald Trump (his “base”). Probably those who support Donald Trump are its more active voters. Rather than being Republican they have psychologically become The Party of Trump.

What remains of the traditional Republican Party is a group adrift. Faced with four more years of a chaotic non-functioning government, many traditional cultural Republicans are wavering between simply withdrawing from politics or moving to the Democrats at the national level (at the state and local level traditional Republicans do just fine). The success of traditional Republicans in Kansas should encourage them to continue. For those who do move to the Democrats, the fact that Joe Biden is a kind of moderate inoffensive personality will make that shift easier.

Donald Trump’s famous “base” is highly motivated. That means that in primaries its voters should do quite well. The problem is that their favored candidates may not do so well in the regular election in November. In Kansas yesterday their candidates lost. The regular party, at least for the moment, dodged the bullet.

An obvious example: In Kansas Kris Kobach is a classic conservative bomb thrower. Famous for his hostility to immigrants, he headed a Donald Trump created commission to discover massive vote fraud. They didn’t find any. With eleven Republicans on the ballot the fear among Republicans was that Kobach would be able to win and then inevitably lose to Democrat Barbara Bollier (He had already lost a race for Governor in 2018.). Yesterday voters may have saved the day by giving federal Representative Roger Marshall 40% of the vote to Kabach’s 26%. Marshall is assumed to have a better chance against Bollier in November. That could make a gaining a Democratic majority in the new Senate more difficult.

Kansas voters also saved the day for Republicans by eliminating Steve Watkins, the Representative from the 2nd District in Kansas. Watkins who had followed his father in the same district in Congress had just been indicted on four counts of voter fraud. His two years have been deeply troubled. By losing in the primary to Jake LaTurner, the Kansas State Treasurer, Republicans may have been saved from another loss.

For Progressive Democrats the victory of Cori Bush, African American single mother, former nurse and pastor, over William Lacy Clay in St. Louis Missouri, was a triumph for the Democrat’s progressive insurgency. Clay, a ten term veteran of the Black establishment had been preceded in his St Louis District by his father.

Cori Bush, returning from a previous loss to Clay in 2018, this time was able to marshal the political force to defeat the long-time veteran. Her name recognition was undoubtedly helped by a political film, Knock Down the House, in which she was able to “co-star” with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her district is solidly Democratic. Her arrival in Congress in January will be seen as a victory for the young progressive Democrats.

Meanwhile, in Michigan’s oddly shaped 13th District (Michigan districts are classically gerrymandered), which contains parts of Detroit and its western suburbs, Rashida Tlaib struggled to win her primary. Tlaib, accused of making anti-Semitic comments after her election in 2018, was fighting for survival in a district made up of both Arab and Black constituents. She won easily (roughly 66%) over Brenda Jones who emphasized the need for Black representation. Tlaib will be returned to the Squad.

The real test, of course, will be in November. The Democratic hope that Kobach would win and then lose was disappointed. In Arizona, their hope that Mark Kelly in November can defeat the Trumpian, Martha McSally awaits November. Kelly is far ahead in the polls. The Progressives have reason to be encouraged by yesterday’s results. Cori Bush and Rachia Tlaib should be in office in January.

A great deal depends of the political fate of Donald Trump. If he loses then many in his base will withdraw from politics. The traditional Republicans can regroup, reorganize, and in time, revive. If Trump loses, and the House and Senate have Democratic majorities then the great reversal will begin and the progressives will meld into a modernizing Democratic Party. We await November.

H.J. Rishel

8/05/2020

Retired political science professor of 40+ years. Educated at Olivet, UofM, MSU, Northwestern, & Harvard. Hoping to make politics a fun & exciting topic for all