Republican voters on Tuesday rendered their latest judgment on the tussle between Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell for control of the party: They’re with Trump.
In this week’s primary elections in New Hampshire, G.O.P. voters picked three hard-right candidates who have floated baseless theories about problems with the 2020 results — a sign that the election-fraud fever inside the Republican Party has not yet abated, if it ever will.
First, in the Senate race against Maggie Hassan, the Democratic incumbent, Granite State Republicans chose Don Bolduc over Chuck Morse, a state lawmaker who had the financial and political backing of the local establishment as well as that of Senator McConnell, the minority leader, and his well-heeled allies.
Bolduc, a decorated retired Army general who has avidly promoted Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential results, campaigned as a political outsider who was critical of both parties. He played up his military experience, including a stint fighting in Afghanistan as a “horse soldier” after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Morse struggled to navigate the shifting waters of the Republican primary electorate, which, even in famously independent New Hampshire, has moved sharply rightward in recent years.
At one point, Morse embraced the label “MAGA Republican” after President Biden’s speech castigating the Trump wing of the party as a threat to democracy. At the same time, Morse sought support from McConnell and Gov. Chris Sununu, a moderate who blasted Bolduc as a “conspiracy theory extremist.”
Bolduc hit right back at Sununu, accusing him of sympathizing with the Chinese Communist Party and of being “in business with Saudi Arabian companies that give money to terrorists.”
Bolduc also called Sununu, who loudly declared a lack of interest in challenging Hassan late last year, a “globalist world-government guy” — an insult popularized by Stephen Bannon, the recently indicted former Trump aide who frequently promotes aggressive anti-government language on his podcast, “War Room: Pandemic.”
On the Saturday before Election Day, Sununu nonetheless said of Bolduc: “I’ll endorse whoever the nominee is and support him. Of course I will, no question.”
Sununu won his primary handily. But he is widely seen as having presidential aspirations, and the outcomes of New Hampshire’s other contests this week will inevitably raise questions about that. Namely: Are Republican voters truly looking for someone in the moderate mold he projects?
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.
In a key House primary, voters backed Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old former press assistant in the Trump White House, over Matt Mowers, who served as a political appointee in Trump’s State Department and later as a board member of the International Republican Institute, a pillar of the wheezing internationalist wing of the G.O.P. Leavitt has repeatedly pushed the fiction that Trump was robbed in 2020.
And in New Hampshire’s other House district, another right-wing candidate, Robert Burns, won narrowly over George Hansel, the moderate mayor of Keene. Burns said during the campaign that he accepted Biden’s 2020 victory but believed that “a ton” of other elections were stolen that year.
Notably, Trump did not endorse a candidate in any of New Hampshire’s Senate or House contests.
Tuesday’s results recall a revealing moment in the Senate primary in Pennsylvania, when Kathy Barnette, an insurgent candidate seeking to claim Trump’s mantle, said at a debate: “MAGA does not belong to President Trump.”
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“Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values,” she said. “It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values.”
Like Bolduc, Barnette had the backing of Bannon and other Trump-world celebrities with huge online followings. In her Senate race, Trump had endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television celebrity, over David McCormick, a former hedge-fund executive who came within just under a thousand of victory.
But while Barnette’s shoestring campaign ultimately came up short, she was the one who briefly captured the imagination of the Republican grass roots — the same political forces that powered the primary victory of Doug Mastriano, the far-right G.O.P. nominee for governor in Pennsylvania.
You can see that Trump-aligned coalition imposing its will on the political geography of New Hampshire. Morse racked up votes in more heavily populated southern parts of the state near Boston — he ran ahead of Bolduc by roughly 20 percentage points in Portsmouth, for instance — while losing or barely beating his rival in rural areas and towns further upstate.
For the coup de grâce, Bolduc even defeated Morse within the state senator’s own district, which includes the towns of Salem and Pelham.
“Donald Trump still has a stranglehold on Republican primary voters, and Governor Sununu’s popularity is nontransferable,” said Joe Caiazzo, who ran presidential campaigns in New Hampshire for Senator Bernie Sanders.
He added, “This is a sign that deniers will play an enormous role in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.”
What to read tonight
Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive and prominent promoter of 2020 election conspiracy theories, had his cellphone seized by federal agents at a Hardee’s restaurant in Minnesota — a clear sign that the Justice Department has intensified its interest in a state case against a Colorado county clerk accused of tampering with voting machines, Charles Homans, Ken Bensinger, Alexandra Berzon and Alan Feuer write.
John Durham, the former U.S. attorney assigned by the Justice Department in 2019 to examine the origins of the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, appears to be winding down his three-year inquiry with little fanfare, Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage report.
For more than a decade, Catherine Engelbrecht, a Texas small-business owner turned election-fraud crusader, has sown doubts about ballots and voting. Her patience has paid off, and now she’s seizing the moment, Cecilia Kang writes in a deeply reported profile.
Under the new climate and tax law, the federal government will lease hundreds of millions more acres for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the next decade, even as it invests $370 billion to move the country away from fossil fuels, Lisa Friedman writes.
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