Republicans are not sending us their best.
Let’s start in Michigan, where news broke this week that Trump-endorsed House candidate John Gibbs argued against women’s suffrage while in college. But other than that, he’s… still weird.
Gibbs’ other “greatest hits” include calling Democrats the party of “gender-bending,” defending an antisemitic Twitter feed, and advancing the theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta participated in a satanic ritual (no wonder Democrats boosted his candidacy).
Gibbs won the nomination by defeating first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Peter Meijer, whose unpardonable sins were voting for Trump’s second impeachment and accepting the results of the 2020 election. Before that, Republican Rep. Justin Amash (whose unpardonable sin was voting for Trump’s first impeachment) held that seat from 2011-2021. Aside from Amash switching to the Libertarian Party in his final year in office, a Republican has occupied Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district since 1993.
This raises the question of whether even Gibbs could blow this race if he tried. According to the Cook Political Report, the answer is YES. They rank the district as Democratic-leaning. (Gibbs’ craziness aside, the district was recently redrawn to include more Democratic voters. So at the very moment when Republicans needed a congressional candidate with broad support, they nominated Mr. MAGA.)
But Gibbs is no anomaly. Next door in Ohio, Republicans have a similar problem with GOP House candidate J.R. Majewski.
If you’re unfamiliar, Majewski is the man in this “Let’s Go Brandon” rap video. He got Trump’s attention by carving the name “TRUMP” into his farmland. And to top it off, Majewski was at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
So how did he win the GOP nomination? During an Ohio rally in April, Trump gave Majewski a shout-out. “He’s a great guy,” Trump said. “I love him.” A little over a week later, Majewski won the Republican primary.
But, for Republicans, it wasn’t much of a victory. This week, on the heels of an Associated Press report alleging that Majewski misrepresented his military service (Majewski denied this, claiming his deployments are “classified”), it was reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had withdrawn about $1 million worth of ads for the candidate.
(At this point, I should disclose that my wife was a fundraising consultant for one of the Republican candidates that Majewski defeated in the primary, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone—a conservative with an impressive list of endorsements, including the Ohio Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony Foundation. In an alternate universe, she would be poised for victory in November.)
With a better candidate, this House seat could have been a GOP pickup. Ohio’s 9th Congressional District has been held by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur since 1982, but redistricting has made it more Republican (Trump won the district by three points in 2020.)
Now, you might be thinking, “There are 435 House races every year. What difference does this one make?”
Well, the seat is important enough that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy traveled to Ohio last month to campaign for Majewski.
Of course, Republicans are still expected to win the House of Representatives, but a narrow majority will cause headaches for McCarthy (possibly even costing him the speakership).
Trump’s support elevated unelectable candidates like Majewski, and Kevin McCarthy did nothing to prevent this or to elevate more electable candidates. Now, he’s reaping what he sowed.
A similar story is taking place in the upper chamber, where candidate quality is more likely to cost Republicans the majority. This week, it was announced that a Mitch McConnell-affiliated super PAC had pulled out of Trump-endorsed Blake Masters’ race for the U.S. Senate in Arizona.
Give these establishment Republicans credit for husbanding their resources, cutting their losses, and spending their dollars where they think they have a chance to win. But they would have more chess pieces to play with had they gotten in the game sooner—and helped more electable candidates compete with Trump’s hand-picked minions.
Even if they take the majority, Republicans are taking points off the board. In a business that is a game of inches, and in a year when the margins are looking tight, Republicans are poised to leave congressional seats on the table. The only question is: How many?
The bad news for normal Republicans who want to use this as a teachable moment is that missed opportunities don’t sting so much as long as you still come out on top. Republicans always win just enough to avoid hitting rock bottom and moving on from Trump.