Ever since Donald Trump grabbed the GOP by the throat, people have been asking whether this repudiation of the Republican “establishment” and so much party orthodoxy was an aberration or the new normal. The results of Georgia’s primary Tuesday suggest the Trump phenomenon might be contained.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, that “moderate” member of the Washington “establishment,” got 77 percent of the vote. In fact, he was the choice on nearly as many ballots as Trump was on March 1, even though less than half as many people voted this time.
Two Republican congressmen, Doug Collins and Barry Loudermilk, drew four primary opponents apiece for such sins as voting for John Boehner to be speaker of the House — when, contrary to so much rhetoric, there was no viable alternative, as we saw last year when Boehner finally stepped down and none of the rabble rousers actually wanted the job. Both incumbents cleared 60 percent of the vote in deep-red districts. Collins’ win was particularly impressive, considering one of his rivals was hard-right former Rep. Paul Broun.
Not a single Republican legislator lost a primary race, although two representatives are headed to runoffs: Tom Dickson of Cohutta, who missed an outright win by 16 votes, and John Yates of Griffin, who fell 51 votes short. Nine Republican state senators faced primary challengers; only one won by less than 20 percentage points.
The bottom line: In each category of state or federal race Tuesday, the combined votes of Republican incumbents with challengers totaled at least two-thirds of those cast.
Those are not numbers that scream “anti-incumbent year” or “angry electorate.”
They suggest instead that the “movement” Trump claims to lead isn’t coherent enough to exist beyond his outsize personality. And even that tends to be overstated. In what was essentially a five-man race by then, Trump won Georgia’s primary with 39 percent of the vote, which would have consigned him to a runoff in these other races. Another way to look at it is that the non-Trump vote was 61 percent — much closer to the percentage Republican incumbents won across the state Tuesday.
All of this should be enough to give pause to some of those (OK, us) who are wondering if the Republican Party as we’ve known it has been changed forever.
Of course, a Trump win in November would put him in a position for a far more extensive remake of the party. But a loss, coupled with a lack of throw-out-the-bums results so far, and not only in Georgia, would have to raise the question of whether the “movement” is about more than himself.
All those jumping aboard the “Trump train” out of convenience or party loyalty might want to keep that in mind. While it’s possible Trump will win in November, it’s also possible he’ll lose and go away, and the GOP he leaves behind will be left to answer for the ways it changed to accommodate and rationalize him.
The GOP as a whole certainly needs to make changes. But maybe it needs to change to act and sound more like Doug Collins, not like Donald Trump.