As if it hasn’t become abundantly clear by now that conservatives are performing dismally at the ballot box in 2018, the June 12 primary results have once again shown that traditional conservative candidates are not gaining ground in the Republican party.
The race results that are most disappointing to liberty-minded conservatives come from Virginia, where state Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, narrowly lost the Republican primary for U.S. Senate to Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart. Freitas, backed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was admired by conservative and libertarian activists for his rare ability to articulate the limited-government political philosophy most Republicans claim they are for. He lost to Stewart, who previously raised taxes, advocates using the government to “sic anti-trust investigators” on social media companies and “pass legislation to break up Facebook,” refused to apologize for race-baiting tactics employed by affiliates of his campaign, and ran as unabashedly pro-Trump.
Conservatives lost elsewhere too. In South Carolina, incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who holds a 93% Liberty Score®, was defeated because he had criticized President Trump’s tariff policies. The president came out at the last minute to endorse Sanford’s primary opponent, who had labeled him a NeverTrumper.
Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2018
Sanford was instrumental in passing the Trump tax cuts, has taken principled stands against big-government spending, and was a member of the House Freedom Caucus. His conservative credentials were immaterial to Republican voters, and he was tossed out.
In Nevada, original Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle was crushed by incumbent Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who easily won the primary with 71.7% of the vote. Amodei is a liberal Republican with an “F” Liberty Score®.
In Maine, a former state director for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign named Eric Brakey won the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate after running uncontested. But judging from this very real, possibly NSFW footage of him, his chances of unseating Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, are slim:
Yes, that’s a real video, and Brakey has defended his dancing as part of his background in acting. Still weird. He’s also relatively unknown statewide in Maine, while Sen. King, a former governor of Maine, is very well known and very well funded.
So why are conservatives losing primary elections to moderates and populists? There are three main reasons.
First: Name recognition is the single most important factor in electoral politics, period, and conservatives didn’t have it in Virginia last night. Nick Freitas lost because this was his first statewide run in Virginia, while Corey Stewart had previously run for governor, narrowly losing the Republican primary to Ed Gillespie — who went on to lose to current Gov. Ralp Northam, D. Freitas ran an impressive campaign, going from a no-name state lawmaker to coming within one point of beating Stewart, but it wasn’t enough because …
Second: Candidates need money to build name recognition. Freitas was only able to raise about $500,000 for his Senate campaign, according to FEC documents. That would be impressive for a congressional race, but it’s not nearly enough to wage a successful statewide campaign when you start out as a relative unknown. Typically, conservative activist groups and PACs would step in to help a campaign, but in Virginia, most donors and organizations are convinced that Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., will win re-election easily, and they weren’t willing to spend resources to help Freitas win.
In fact, according to Rand Paul’s chief strategist, some individuals were convinced Corey Stewart was going to win the primary from the beginning and declined to support Freitas’ bid.
I’m making a list of everyone who said Corey was gonna win by double digits so why help Nick. You know who you are.
— Doug Stafford (@dougstafford) June 13, 2018
Third: Most importantly, conservatives are losing primaries because the Republican Party is not conservative. Republican voters are not conservative. The candidates who are winning GOP primaries in 2018 are the candidates who are most pro-Trump, and while there are Trump policies conservatives can readily support, the candidates running as the most pro-Trump aren’t always in favor of those policies. Sanford had a voting record that supported President Trump’s agenda, but he lost at least partly because he took a principled stand against the president on tariffs. In the last round of primaries, moderate Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., was forced into a runoff election because in 2016 she did not vote for Trump.
Conservative principles are not a metric Republican voters are evaluating candidates by in 2018. There is no tea-party, pro-liberty movement in GOP primaries this year. The polls that matter — elections — have repeatedly demonstrated this.
Finally, it’s very important to note that while many conservative pundits want to dismiss predictions of a “blue wave” of Democrats taking over the House of Representatives in November, elections are demonstrating that Democrats are winning seats Republicans should win. A special election held last night in Wisconsin flipped a state Senate seat from Republican to Democratic control in a district where President Trump won by 16 points.
Update: Frostman (D) looks like he's flipped this Trump +16% WI state senate district for Dems. 52%-48% w/ 97% precincts reporting.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) June 13, 2018
43rd red-to-blue flip since January 2017, though Rs have had some upsets too — most recently recalling a Democrat in Orange County. https://t.co/qP3VmAuTr4
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 13, 2018
Forget the generic ballot polls. The only polls that matter are elections, and Democrats keep winning.
Things bode ill for conservatives this year.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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