Nearly every analysis of Donald Trump’s rise in Republican politics features familiar themes: voters, especially on the right, are “angry”; there’s broad “resentment” against the political establishment; voters are lashing out against “professional politicians” and “business as usual”; etc.
The factors that have contributed to Trump’s success are a little more complex than some of these analyses suggest, but there’s a lingering question that casts doubt over the entire “politics of anger” thesis: congressional Republicans appear completely immune.
Two weeks ago today, after the other Super Tuesday, The Atlantic published an overlooked detail.
If anyone should fear the anti-establishment fervor that’s fueling the candidacies of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders, it should be incumbent members of the House and Senate. After all, it was the stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor nearly two years ago – by one measure the biggest congressional upset in history – that served as the first warning sign of the populist revolt that has come to define the 2016 presidential race.Yet … that wave has yet to breach the Capitol. Not a single incumbent member of the House or Senate lost a primary in the dozen states that voted on Super Tuesday, despite several aggressive challenges.
The pattern has held in each of the states that have voted since. Several congressional GOP incumbents have faced challengers – some of them well-funded, with credible campaign operations – but in literally every instance, the incumbent Republican lawmaker has won. (No Democratic incumbents have lost in any primaries, either.)
In the Senate, Republican incumbents like North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Alabama’s Richard Shelby looked like they might be in trouble, but both sailed to easy victories. In the House, Republican incumbents like Illinois’ John Shimkus and Ohio’s Dave Joyce faced relatively tough intra-party tests yesterday, which they passed without too much trouble.
Morning Consult recently published a piece on the “20 House members who could lose their primaries.” While some of those primaries haven’t been held yet, so far, the incumbents’ success rate is 100%.
At first blush, something doesn’t seem to add up. If Donald Trump – who, as of today, has won primaries and caucuses in 20 states – is riding a wave of anti-establishment, anti-politician anger all the way to the Republicans’ presidential nomination, how is it that so many GOP members of Congress have survived unscathed?
I suspect much of the answer is unsatisfying, but straightforward: a whole lot of Republican primary voters just like Donald Trump and his message. That’s it. That’s pretty much the whole answer.
For all the handwringing about economic anxiety and an enraged electorate, when push comes to shove, rank-and-file conservatives like what Donald Trump is selling, and they were left cold by hollow pleasantries from the likes of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
If GOP contempt for the party establishment were genuine, one might expect Republican incumbents – those serving in a woefully unpopular, do-nothing Congress – to start dropping like flies in primaries. But that’s clearly not happening, at least not yet.
As we saw yesterday, and every other primary day prior, the Republican voters who keep rewarding Trump are the same voters siding with GOP incumbents.