Trump’s Influence Has Energized Outsiders in GOP Primary Races, Strategists Say

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News Analysis

A number of successful candidates in the GOP primary elections held on Aug. 9 in Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin, espouse domestic and foreign policies consistent with those of former President Donald Trump.

The FBI’s Monday night raid on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home, as part of an investigation into the alleged moving of documents from the White House after Trump left office, has aroused concern among some voters in those states who feel that federal law enforcement has overstepped its bounds, and it may have provided a further impetus to turn out and support outsider campaigns influenced or inspired by the example of Trump, political strategists said.

The influence of Trump is evident even in deep blue states such as Connecticut, Vermont, and Minnesota. Democrat politicians’ records on issues such as inflation, competition with China, and policing, respectively, have driven public frustration and opened a window for candidates who might not normally think of these states as hospitable environments for their ideas and platforms, the analysts said.

Connecticut

In a deep-blue state, Connecticut, the influence of Trump made itself felt in the victory of a candidate whom the former president endorsed. Businesswoman Leora Levy gained 47,105 votes, or 50.6 percent of the total, compared to 37,177, or 40 percent, for runner-up Themis Klarides.

An article in the Hartford Courant was unambiguous about the role of Trump in paving the way for Levy, calling Trump a “game changer” and noting that a tele-rally held by Trump on Levy’s behalf on Monday night drew no fewer than 32,679 listeners, with a reported 98 percent of callers hailing from Connecticut.

In a speech following her victory, Levy denounced the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid as “un-American” and called it reminiscent of what the authorities do in such authoritarian states as Cuba and China. Levy mentioned that she and her sister had escaped from communist Cuba.

Levy used rhetoric reminiscent of Trump when she criticized her rival on the Democrat side, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who did not face any challenge in the primary. Levy compared Blumenthal to Joe Biden, implying that he is a longtime political insider and establishment figure, and criticized the senator for having supported “defund the police” rhetoric.

Blumenthal, who has held his Senate seat since 2011, has recently taken to Twitter to praise Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act as a “historic measure” that will help alleviate climate change as well as the record-high inflation that Americans are grappling with.

Vermont

In the primary race to run for the U.S. Senate in the fall, and to replace retiring 82-year-old Senator Patrick Leahy, the clear winner on the GOP side was Army veteran Gerald Malloy, who garnered 12,134 votes, or 43 percent, compared to 10,872, or 38.5 percent, for U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan and 5,216, or 18.5 percent, for businessman Myers Mermel.

In a number of critical ways, Malloy is a candidate in the Trump mode whose platform includes building a wall on the border to stop illegal immigration, promoting energy independence by restarting the Keystone pipeline shut down under the Biden administration, supporting law enforcement in the face of calls to “defund,” and alleviating U.S. debt.

Malloy’s decisive victory in a primary election in a solid-blue state is the continuation of a trend evident in recent races across the country, Michael Reinhardt, a political strategist based in Vermont, told The Epoch Times. The moment is favorable to political outsiders, exemplified by J.D. Vance in Ohio and Hershel Walker in Georgia, who have found invigoration in the enduring popularity and influence of Trump, Reinhardt said.

“Trump undergirds all that energy. I do think it is important for how we look at American politics going forward to see this real desire on the right to embrace political outsiders, and people who really brand themselves as disruptors,” he said.

Another issue on which Malloy’s views are reminiscent of Trump’s is China, or more specifically, the fentanyl crisis afflicting rural U.S. states, in which the Chinese regime plays a role. China is the primary source of fentanyl precursors that make their way into the United States via Mexico.

“Malloy is responding to the drug epidemic in Vermont, and many other rural states, with fentanyl continuing to be the primary driver of opioid-related deaths in Vermont—86 percent of deaths in 2019,” Jessica Teets, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, told The Epoch Times.

Teets noted that Vermont has taken part in the successful lawsuit against Purdue Pharma LP for its alleged role in facilitating the spread of opioids, and formed a task force to figure out how to put to use $36.4 million in settlement funds in order to combat the epidemic.

“This is a Vermont issue, but it is also an important one in other rural states,” Teets said.

However, in his response to the opioid crisis, Malloy tends to emphasize securing the southern border—the route through which cartels supplied by Chinese firms bring opioids into the United States—more than confronting China directly over the issue, Teets clarified.

“Malloy [said] that he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, and some of his policies are similar, such as constructing a wall on the southern border. He seems to focus on the southern border, more than China, as the source of fentanyl into the United States,” Teets said.

Teets sees further divergences between the platforms of Malloy and Trump.

“He focuses on the deficit and other traditionally Republican issues, which Trump does not,” she said.

For all the receptivity to Malloy’s message among Vermont Republicans, the state is still overwhelmingly blue, and Reinhardt and others are sober about the chances of Malloy defeating Rep. Peter Welch, the clear winner of the Democrat Senate primary, in the midterm elections.

Minnesota

Minnesota is another state where a crisis, in this case, crime and lawlessness inflamed by “defund the police” rhetoric, has helped create an opening for candidates who might not normally think of the reliably Democrat state as an obvious place to run for office, Lonny Leitner, vice president of LS2 Group, a government affairs firm with offices in Des Moines, Iowa, and Edina, Minnesota, told The Epoch Times.

In the 1st House District special general election contest to serve out the remainder of the term of Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died in February, the clear winner on the GOP side is agriculture executive Brad Finstad, who gained 48,299 votes, or 76 percent of the total, compared to 15,213, or 24 percent, for businessman Jeremy Munson.

Finstad achieved this strong showing at a time of year that might not normally be propitious, said Leitner. The Mar-a-Lago raid may have roused some voters who would otherwise sit things out.

“In Minnesota and Wisconsin right now, it’s August 9, and a large percentage of families are at the cabin right now on a beautiful sunny day. August primary turnout is always very low,” Leitner said on the day of the elections.

“However, with the raid in Mar-a-Lago last night, I think it will be a real motivating factor,” he said.

Many voters in Minnesota are not fond of Finestad’s Democrat rival, Attorney General Keith Ellison, whom Leitner said is probably the most vulnerable candidate statewide in the coming midterms.

“Ellison led the campaign to ‘defund the police’ with his buddy Ilan Omar, and that went down to defeat,” Leitner observed.

Leitner predicts that Finestad will defeat Ettinger, as Minnesotans register their outrage over rhetoric and criminal justice policies that have made life in areas of the state increasingly unsafe.

“My grandfather, a lifelong Democrat, would be rolling over in his grave. Today’s Democrat party, at least here in Minnesota, is not my grandfather’s, when you have Ilhan Omar, who represents the 3th District in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, screaming that the Minneapolis police are rotten to the core and should be dismantled, and you have her buddy Keith Ellison, the top law enforcement official in the state, leading the ‘defund’ campaign,” Leitner said.

Omar narrowly won the 5th District Democrat primary against challenger Don Samuels, garnering 57,683 votes, or 50.3 percent, compared to Samuels’s 55,217, or 48.2 percent. Her victory was not nearly as decisive as some observers expected, and it is rhetoric and policies favored by Ilhan and other Democrat politicians that may prove their greatest liability in November, Leitner believes.

“Ilhan Omar, I would argue, hates America and hates the police. There are people in her district who sleep in bathtubs because stray bullets come through the windows. I’ve met a grandmother whose granddaughter can’t play in the backyard because of stray bullets,” he said.

The Epoch Times reached out to Rep. Omar’s office for comment.

Wisconsin

Perhaps the most closely watched race in Wisconsin on Tuesday was the gubernatorial primary, where once again an endorsement from Trump proved highly advantageous, pushing construction executive Tim Michels across the finish line. Michels garnered 326,718 votes, or 47.2 percent of the total, compared to 291,126, or 42 percent, for former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch and 41,694, or 6 percent, for state assemblyman Timothy Ramthun.

Michels has explicitly positioned himself as an outsider in the Trump mode and an alternative to establishment figures who want to pursue business as usual. His campaign website states, “Tim Michels is not a politician. Endorsed by President Trump. He’s a business leader, he’s a builder, and he’s a veteran.”

Other sections of the website contain rhetoric that deliberately echoes certain of Trump’s favored slogans, stating Michels’s intention “to drain the Madison swamp,” a reference to Wisconsin’s capital, and to counter the influence of establishment insiders who favor the interests of lobbyists over those of ordinary voters.

Michels will run in November against incumbent Democrat governor Tony Evers, who did not face any challenge from within his party in the primary.

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Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We’re Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”