Opinion | Surprise Wins by MAGA Cranks Will Make 2022 Harder for the GOP - New England College
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Opinion | Surprise Wins by MAGA Cranks Will Make 2022 Harder for the GOP

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Excerpt taken from the Washington Post, September 14, 2022. To read the full article, click here.

Last month, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu warned fellow Republicans that nominating wild-eyed Trumpist Don Bolduc for Senate could be disastrous. Bolduc would make it “much harder” to win, said Sununu, slamming Bolduc as a “conspiracy-theory extremist.

Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College, points out that arguments about the need to win moderates and independents fell flat, even though such appeals have a history of success in the state.

“None of that carried the day,” Lesperance told me, chalking this up partly to Trump’s influence.

Lesperance pointed to a fascinating nuance. He noted that Sununu has repeatedly challenged Trump, which is one reason he’s popular with the New Hampshire electorate, including independents and some Democrats.

Yet when faced with this evidence of what has broad appeal, GOP voters went 180 degrees in the other direction, picking the Trumpiest candidates. “It’s denying reality,” Lesperance said.

There are deeper reasons Trumpism has some attraction in New Hampshire. It’s the state where Pat Buchanan, whose right-wing populism prefigured Trumpism, famously surged in a 1992 primary against incumbent President George H.W. Bush.

“Trump’s political appeal was presaged by the anti-establishment insurgency of Pat Buchanan,” GOP strategist Liam Donovan told me. “A MAGA primary sweep brings it full circle.”

Now, however, the assertion that Trump won in 2020 — that he cannot possibly have lost, that the very notion is unthinkable — has become an absolutely essential ingredient of these appeals.

Leavitt’s victory illustrates the point. Her primary opponent had decent Trump credentials himself, having served in the State Department under Trump. But he committed the fatal misstep of declaring confidence in New Hampshire elections, allowing Leavitt to out-MAGA him by declaring Trump won.

This got Leavitt’s opponent tagged as the “establishment candidate,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. Such establishment candidates, Scala told me, “don’t understand their base.”

If the inability of that base to entertain the idea that Trumpism is a losing proposition is itself what helps cost Republicans control of the Senate or House, that would be a fitting outcome indeed.

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