The Next Populist Moment

Source: The American Conservative

On Tuesday, New Right rising star Blake Masters won Arizona’s Republican Senate primary by more than a ten-point margin. Kari Lake defeated establishment candidate Karrin Taylor Robson in the state’s gubernatorial primary. Up in Michigan, MAGA challenger John Gibbs—a Stanford and Harvard grad and faithful Catholic convert who served as assistant secretary of HUD—bested anti-Trump incumbent Peter Meijer by a slim but safe 3.6-point margin.

The only real question mark left on the field is Joe Kent, a decorated retired Green Beret and Gold Star husband running for Washington State’s 3rd district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kent is hoping to unseat Jaime Herrera Beutler, a five-term incumbent liberal Republican who (like Meijer) voted to impeach President Trump.

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On Wednesday morning, with 57 percent reporting and Kent trailing Beutler by a good distance, many were ready to call the race against the America First challenger. As numbers slowly trickle in, though, it seems their judgment was premature. While counting is still inexplicably unfinished, at the time of writing Kent has closed the gap to just 1.3 points, with only 83 percent of all votes reported. A path to victory remains open for Kent, and seems clearer with every batch of counted votes.

If he does lose, it will be no mystery why: Heidi St. John. The Christian mommy-blogger-cum-entrepreneur was meant to bow out if she did not receive the 45th president’s endorsement. When the nod went to Kent, St. John stayed in. At present, she is trailing at 15.7 percent to Kent’s 22. If the America First vote had not been split, it would be clear ahead of Beutler’s 23.3 percent.

Halfway across the country in Kansas, a referendum on abortion was shot down to much fanfare. Pro-abortion Democrats and accommodationist Republicans have taken the result as evidence that pro-life policy will not actually be viable at the state level after Roe. Rachel Sweet, campaign manager of the pro-abortion group Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, claimed that “the people of Kansas have spoken. They think that abortion should be safe, legal and accessible in the state of Kansas.” President Joe Biden likewise asserted that “this vote makes clear” that “the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions.”

Of course, the vote does nothing of the sort. The text of the amendment on the ballot read as follows:

Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstnces [sic] of necessity to save the life of the mother.

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Maybe the average voter is a lot smarter than I am; I certainly hope he is. But if I got away from work for a few minutes on a Tuesday to cast my vote quickly in a primary election, I wouldn’t have the bandwidth to make sense of that word salad. At a glance (which is all most people give), a reasonable person could easily take a “No” vote to mean not empowering legislators to enshrine a fictional right to abortion at the state level. Pair this fact—that most people likely had no idea what they were voting for—with the state’s infamous libertarian streak, and it is hardly a surprise that the Kansas measure failed. It is certainly not an indictment of the prospects for outlawing abortion in America writ large.

So, with two easily explicable exceptions, Tuesday was a banner night for the GOP’s ascendant wing—call it pro-Trump, MAGA, America First, New Right, or populist. Ben Domenech, a prominent D.C. libertarian, strangely and preemptively cast the night as “not a particularly good showing for populists.” But it was, on almost any measure, an absolutely stellar showing.

Masters in particular should inspire hope among the upstart faction. He opposes abortion wholesale, and thinks Griswold and Obergefell should go the way of Roe. He reads Curtis Yarvin and Ted Kaczynski. He wants to scale back immigration and get a handle on Big Tech. He has thoughts on the last election and the riot at the Capitol. The father of three young children, he ran not just on an America First but a pro-family platform.

Conventional wisdom said he was unelectable as late as Tuesday afternoon. Yet he outpaced even J.D. Vance’s 8.3-point win in Ohio. This cycle has shown beyond any doubt that the possible in politics is lightyears beyond the establishment’s measure of it.

No surprise, then, that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is bothered by this latest round of victors. Once bullish on the party’s midterm prospects, by Wednesday McConnell was fretting on Fox News that this election would be a nail-biter. Unable to learn a lesson from the primaries, he seems to think a Republican Party with any higher message than complaining about Joe Biden will have no prospect of securing a majority. And if they did, he would surely have no interest in allowing them to govern.

McConnell is right to be worried, in that case: not that this new crop of Republicans will lose, but that they—we—are going to win.