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GOP voters ignore Trump, defeat candidate accused of groping in key primary

Trump likes to think he can tell GOP primary voters who to vote for, and they'll obey. Occasionally, however, they ignore him.


For years, Donald Trump has described a scenario that’s effectively automatic: He tells GOP primary voters who to vote for, and they obey his directions. It’s a point of particular pride for the former president.

The problem for the Republican is that his followers, from time to time, ignore his instructions. NBC News reported overnight:

Donald Trump failed to deliver a victory Tuesday in a Nebraska GOP primary for a gubernatorial candidate accused of groping multiple women, NBC News projects, handing the former president his first loss of this year’s election season.

As of a month ago, Charles Herbster appeared well positioned to win this primary, right up until eight women accused the first-time candidate of having groped them. Among the accusers was a sitting GOP state senator, who claimed Herbster reached up her skirt at an event in 2019.

In the days that followed, as the first-time candidate denied any misconduct, The Nebraska Examiner, which first broke the story, reported on other witnesses coming forward to corroborate the accusers’ claims.

As we’ve discussed, several prominent Nebraska Republicans publicly condemned the gubernatorial hopeful, including incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who told reporters, “I think he needs to apologize to the women, then I think he should seek help, then he should step out of the race.”

Herbster went in a very different direction: He partnered with lawyers who’ve worked with Trump and clung to the former president like a life preserver.

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster shakes hands with former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally for Herbster on May 1, 2022, in Greenwood.
Charles Herbster shakes hands with former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally for Herbster on May 1, 2022, in Nebraska.Kenneth Ferriera / AP

As Primary Day approached, Trump went all in to support his GOP ally in the Cornhusker State, headlining an in-person rally — the former president condemned Herbster’s accusers for making “malicious” claims against an “innocent human being” — which was soon followed by a tele-rally in which Trump again made the case for Herbster.

It didn’t work. With just about all of the votes tallied, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen won yesterday’s GOP primary, beating Herbster by about three points.

For Trump World, this was certainly embarrassing, but it wasn’t the only setback. In Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, the former president didn’t literally endorse Steve Kuehl’s primary challenge against Rep. Don Bacon, but Trump denounced the Republican incumbent, declaring at his rally, in reference to Bacon, “I hope you vote like hell against that guy.”

Bacon defeated Kuehl yesterday by 44 points.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen also faced two GOP primary challengers, both of whom pushed Trumpian messages about “election security.” The incumbent nevertheless won by double digits.

The day wasn’t a total loss for the former president — we’ll talk a little later about the results in West Virginia — but Trump desperately wants the political world, especially those in his own party, to see him as the ultimate kingmaker.

Every time the former president fails, that reputation grows a little more tarnished, and his power diminishes in the process.