South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice became the biggest casualty of former President Donald Trump’s wrath over the 2020 elections, losing a primary Tuesday to a rival who argued that Rice was a traitor for voting with nine other House Republicans for impeachment after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Rice had less than 25 percent to Trump-endorsed state Rep. Russell Fry's 51 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 11:01 p.m. with an estimated 98.4 percent of the vote counted. The other five Republicans in the race had a combined 24 percent.
Rice is the first pro-impeachment Republican to lose a primary against a Trump-backed challenger. Four of the 10 opted to retire rather than seek reelection, while California Rep. David Valadao appears to be on track to win the second-place spot in the June 7 all-party primary, which has yet to be called.
Rice faced some of the most intense backlash, after Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, because of the partisan lean of his district — it voted for Trump by a 19-point margin in 2020 — and his record as a reliable pro-Trump vote in the House.
Rice’s defeat is a boon for Trump, whose role in firing up supporters ahead of the assault on the Capitol has been the subject of nationally televised hearings of a House select committee that started last week.
While Democrats hope the hearings help make their case that Trump and the Republican lawmakers who have repeated his false election fraud claims should be held accountable in November, Republican primaries have largely veered in the other direction.
Author J.D. Vance and television personality Mehmet Oz secured Senate nominations after Trump endorsed them in their competitive races in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And candidates in GOP primaries across the map have adopted his “America First” messaging and competed to demonstrate their loyalty to him, whether or not they had his official endorsement.
One notable exception was in Georgia, the state where Trump had focused the majority of his energy because of its central role in delivering the Senate majority and the presidency to Democrats in 2020. The candidates he selected to topple Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger suffered staggering defeats.
Rice’s supporters hoped those results could indicate a broader fatigue with Trump’s attempts to relitigate the 2020 election by backing candidates willing to promote his baseless election fraud claims. And former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who has become an outspoken critic of Trump since leaving office, traveled to South Carolina in June to attest to Rice’s experience and commitment to conservative values.
But Trump also made the trip, appearing with Fry at a South Carolina rally in March. He boosted him and 1st District Republican challenger Katie Arrington in a phone call to supporters last week, during which he called the races “two of the most critical primary elections in the country.”
Fry, the state House majority chief whip, centered his campaign on Rice’s impeachment vote. He also highlighted a legislative record that included his work to expand the rights of state residents to openly carry firearms, dramatically limit abortion access and oppose some COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Trump’s Make America Great Again, Again! PAC spent less than $30,000 supporting Fry, who trailed Rice significantly in fundraising.
From 2017 through 2020, Rice voted to support Trump’s position on House votes 93.4 percent of the time, compared with 92.1 percent for the average Republican, according to CQ Vote Watch. He’s also the only person to vote to impeach or convict Trump in the House or Senate to have also voted on Jan. 6 to support objections to counting the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania.
He stood by his impeachment vote, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press NOW” on Tuesday he would only support Trump for president again if he apologized to the country.
“I knew there would be some blowback, but I’m hired to be the people’s representative to do the right thing even when it’s hard,” he said. “I don’t vote to preserve my job, I vote to do the right thing.”