What remaining GOP impeachment supporters have in common: Alternative primaries

 What remaining GOP impeachment supporters have in common: Alternative primaries

Seven Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Donald Trump after January 6 have announced their candidacy for reelection in 2022. And, with the remaining two candidates facing primaries on Tuesday, it's very certain that the majority of them will have sacrificed their political careers with the vote. Only two have made it to the general election thus far.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is expected to resign tonight, owing to her ruby-red state and her unrelenting, unabashed fight against the former president. Given that four candidates advance under Alaska's new ranked-choice system, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) should qualify for the general election, but it's not sure she'll do so in a good position.

So, what are the takeaways from Impeachment 7?

One of the most fascinating theories is that those who survived were saved by the type of alternative primary systems that activists have long promoted as encouraging more moderate politicians — but that haven't always lived up to those expectations.

Both impeachment advocates who have advanced to the November general election thus far — Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and David G. Valadao (R-Calif.) — did so in the few states that have so-called "top two" primary, in which two candidates advance regardless of party affiliation. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) came within one point of advancing in her top-two primary as well.

Meanwhile, Murkowski appears to be benefiting from Alaska's decision to abandon its traditional primary system in favor of a new one: She lost a GOP primary in 2010, and could have done so again against Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka — but she appears to have a fighting chance under the state's new ranked-choice system.

In contrast, the fortunes of impeachment-supporting Republicans in the conventional primaries look to be more definitive. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) was defeated by an underfunded competitor by less than four points. Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), on the other hand, was defeated by a significant margin – Rice was beaten more than 2-to-1 — and Cheney's destiny is likely to be similar.

This is a modest sample size, but it should at least spark some discussion about whether top-two and ranked-choice systems could encourage members to cross the aisle on similar matters.

The popular belief has been — and the available data shows — that top-two regimes have under-delivered as a moderating impact, if at all. A 2021 research from the New America think group included a number of studies that found little or no benefit, despite the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the notion when it was implemented in California more than a decade earlier.

Washington's top-two system was put in place a few years earlier, in 2008. According to a 2017 research, Democrats in the California legislature grew somewhat more moderate when the new system was implemented in 2011, but neither California Republicans nor either party in Washington saw any effect. Another research published last year found that the two states' legislatures remained divided after the top-two systems were implemented.

However, in 2020, Christine Grose of the University of Southern California conducted a study on congressional delegations and discovered a real — if very minor — moderating influence. Some of that was presumably due to existing lawmakers who were confronted with the new processes and may have modified their votes accordingly, but the majority was due to newly-elected members being more moderate.

Grose discovered that "among new members of Congress, those elected in top-two primaries are more than 18 percentage points less extremist than lawmakers elected in closed primaries."

Because the consequences of incumbency are so powerful, the full effects of top-two primary systems may take some time to truly register, according to the New America analysis. There have only been a few elections since California and Washington introduced the systems, so there hasn't been much time for things to change. Alternatively, as Lee Drutman stated in the study, "reform is always part of a dynamic process."

It's just too simple to predict that the findings of Impeachment 7 in California, Washington, and maybe Alaska will reveal anything conclusive about the moderating benefit of these systems. After all, it's only seven races. Other explanations are also on the table.

Among them:

  • It's likely that impeachment advocates may fare better in the West, where Trump's grasp on the party is less and people are more independent.
  • It's also conceivable that Trump and his associates' inconsistent ability to find great candidates had a role: Newhouse's and Valadao's GOP opponents were never heralded as particularly strong, they suffered in fundraising, and Trump didn't even bother to back Valadao's rival.

  • It's also likely that the results of these contests were influenced by how vocal the members were about their choices. Cheney and Rice, in particular, have been unapologetic, and Meijer received a lot of attention for voting to impeach Trump early in his first administration. Herrera Beutler became a pivotal role in the impeachment process after releasing a chat with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Newhouse and Valadao seemed to fly under the radar in comparison.

In the end, they will be significant data points – but merely data points – in the still-developing discussion over whether alternative main systems have the desired impact.

And Murkowski's destiny will be especially critical in this regard, considering that Alaska is blazing new ground with its ranked-choice system. But, while we'll probably have a good idea of her destiny once the primary results come in, the true test will come in November.

tags:Liz Cheney,Republican Party,Donald Trump,Wyoming
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