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Donald Trump Is Still a Campaign Issue

While the GOP struggles for its soul and debates MAGA versus RINO, Democrats are in disarray. Also, lawmakers who simply do not copy and paste legislation from other states are more likely to find success.

Dr Oz and Donald Trump
Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz joins former President Donald Trump onstage during a rally. Oz has been endorsed by Trump.
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Trump’s Still a Campaign Issue: The former president’s track record in terms of GOP primary endorsements this year continues to be impressive. His favored candidates have now won 39 out of 40 races. Granted, most of his picks have faced token opposition at most, but other than Charles Herbster’s loss in Nebraska’s gubernatorial primary, Trump is undefeated, including a big win in a West Virginia congressional contest Tuesday.

That doesn’t mean the old-guard GOP establishment is totally defenseless, however. Herbster lost to Jim Pillen, who was backed by term-limited Gov. Pete Ricketts. Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – who Trump called a “terrible, terrible guy” at a pre-election rally – won nomination to a second term. Next Tuesday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little looks like a reasonably safe bet at this point against Trump endorsee Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. Later in the month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp – a particular target of Trump’s wrath for his role in certifying President Biden’s 2020 Georgia win – is looking strong in his primary against former Sen. David Perdue.

Legislative primaries are also seeing a number of right-on-far-right battles. In part, that’s due to redistricting, which is pitting some incumbents against each other on overlapping turf. The result in Idaho will be considerable legislative turnover, predicts Jaclyn Kettler, a Boise State University political scientist. “The Senate has tended to be a check on some of the more conservative legislation emerging from the House,” she says. “I’m interested in whether turnover will result in the Senate shifting closer to the House or continue to be a key veto point.”

Democrats are hoping that Republicans will nominate candidates who are too “extreme” to win in November. In some gubernatorial races, including Pennsylvania’s primary next week, Democrats are doing their best to guide Republican voters toward the candidates they think least likely to win general elections. “GOP primaries are now a race to the right where the more extreme the candidate, the likelier they are to win,” says Christina Polizzi, press secretary for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

She points to an example from Michigan last week, where Democrat Carol Granville beat Robert Regan in a solidly Republican state House district. Polizzi suggests candidates such as Regan give Democrats a chance, even in tough districts. Maybe. He may have been a special case, however, notorious for calling Jews “the real virus” and suggesting to his daughters, “If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.” Some Michigan Republicans disavowed him, which clearly will not be the dynamic in most races.
RINO Hunter t-shirt
MAGA vs. RINO: In Indiana, a far-right group called Liberty Defense PAC endorsed 26 candidates in legislative primaries last week. Three of them won, including two who defeated incumbents. Liberty Defense, which bills itself as “anti-establishment,” put about $100,000 into the primaries.

“A lot of these candidates bill themselves as anti-RINO” – the derisive acronym for Republicans in name only – “and one of them went around with ‘RINO hunter’ tee-shirts,” says Ed Feigenbaum, editor of the newsletter Indiana Legislative Insight. “At the legislative level, this Liberty Defense group was really pushing candidates who were probably pro-Trump, but I didn’t hear Trump’s name mentioned in any of those races.”

Instead, the candidates campaigned on no-nuance approaches to three issues – constitutional carry legislation for firearms, full parental control over schools and “medical freedom,” also known as opposition to mandatory masks, vaccinations and other health measures. Because compromise ends up being part of nearly every legislative action, such candidates cause headaches for chamber leaders.

That’s why Indiana House Republicans targeted two such sitting members, one with a half-million-dollar campaign treasury, the other by deliberately placing him in a district with another incumbent through redistricting. “The House Republicans decided to oppose some of their own, really for the first time, in the primaries,” Feigenbaum says.

Souls in Disarray: I’ve been doing this kind of work long enough that I can remember writing a cover story for Congressional Quarterly about primary contests that we billed as a “battle for the soul of the GOP” a quarter-century ago. That descriptor still gets used all the time. Just in recent weeks, The New Republic, The New York Times, the Detroit Free Press and Bloomberg have all framed primary fights as “soul” struggles for the GOP.

The state of the Democratic soul doesn’t receive the same kind of journalistic attention. Instead, fights among Democrats are often used as evidence that the party is in “disarray,” for instance by The Atlantic, Newsday and the Miami Herald. New York magazine even has a landing page helpfully “displaying all articles tagged: Democrats In Disarray.”

Copy and Paste: By now, it’s well-established practice for legislators not only to borrow ideas from their peers in other states, but to copy their homework. If an idea gets traction in one state, it’s likely that an identical or nearly identical bill will crop up elsewhere, often promoted by groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council that spread model bills around like legislative Johnny Appleseeds.

It's something that opponents of these bills like to point out, insinuating out-of-state interest groups are hijacking the process. But is it a good idea in terms of achieving policy outcomes? A new study from Oklahoma State University suggests it is not.

Robert M. Dorrell Jr. and Joshua M. Jansa looked at “policy plagiarism” on three issues with measurable outcomes: organ donations, vaping bans for minors and school bullying. They found that the borrowed bills hampered policy achievements on the first two and were probably negative in terms of the third. The reason is pretty simple: One size really does not fit all. Homegrown bills are more likely to be custom-tailored to fit the individual state in question, while incorporating feedback and gaining support from stakeholders within it.

“We are left with one clear takeaway,” Jansa writes. “States experience greater policy success when they adopt more original, less plagiarized legislation.”

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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