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Primary rules can be bane or relief for pro-impeachment Republicans

Only survivors of Trump's wrath so far ran in all-party, top-two primaries

Two Republicans who voted last year to impeach President Donald Trump, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Peter Meijer of Michigan, ran in different types of primaries on Tuesday.
Two Republicans who voted last year to impeach President Donald Trump, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Peter Meijer of Michigan, ran in different types of primaries on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When it comes to surviving the wrath of President Donald Trump, it’s all about the rules of the game.

If it wasn’t already clear, Republican Liz Cheney is going to have a tough time winning her upcoming primary in Wyoming. The most recent round of primaries confirmed a trend: Republicans who voted to impeach Trump either don’t seek reelection or lose in traditional primaries.

The only pro-impeachment Republicans who have survived thus far have had the luxury of running in states with nontraditional primary systems where they didn’t have to rely on support from base GOP voters who still like Trump. That means Cheney, the only House Republican who voted to impeach Trump who hasn’t faced voters yet, is likely to lose on Aug. 16. 

Of the 10 House Republicans who bucked their party and voted to impeach Trump, four are not running for reelection: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, John Katko of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, and Fred Upton of Michigan. Two Republicans lost renomination in a traditional party primary: Tom Rice of South Carolina on June 14 and Peter Meijer of Michigan on Tuesday. 

The survivors thus far have benefitted from their states’ electoral systems. 

California and Washington have top-two primaries in which all voters choose between all of the candidates and the top two finishers move on to the general election. That allowed David Valadao of California to survive and it looks like it will be enough to boost Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse in Washington, although those races have not yet been called. 

In a traditional primary, that trio would likely have lost because, in each race, multiple GOP challengers combined for more of the vote than the incumbent received. 

In California’s 22nd District, Valadao finished second with 26 percent, while two other Republican candidates combined for 30 percent. The congressman was just 2.5 points away from finishing third and being locked out of the general election. 

In Washington’s 3rd District, Herrera Beutler is in second place with 23.8 percent, behind Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (32 percent), in a race in which the second slot has not been called by media outlets. Up to this point, four other GOP challengers have combined for 39.6 percent of the vote, with Trump-endorsed Joe Kent sitting in third with 20.8 percent.

In Washington’s 4th District, Newhouse is currently in first place with 27 percent, in a race that has not yet been called by the Associated Press. Democrat Doug White is at 26 percent while six other Republican candidates combined for a whopping 47 percent. 

Those incumbent totals look very similar to Rice’s 25 percent showing in his primary loss earlier this year, although that was just among Republicans, while Valadao, Herrera Beutler, and Newhouse faced all voters. Even though he lost, Meijer’s 48 percent showing was strong compared to his colleagues who ran for another term. 

If they do make it to the November ballot, Herrera Beutler and Newhouse stand a good chance of being back in the next Congress. Trump would have won Herrera Beutler’s district by 4 points and Newhouse’s by 17, and Republicans’ only choice if they want to oppose them in November would be to vote for the Democratic nominees.  

That leaves Cheney, the highest-profile Trump critic among the House Republicans. Based on the aforementioned races and the polling, she’s headed for a loss. But if she wins under these circumstances, it must be regarded as one of the most unlikely wins in recent congressional history.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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