Clip: Primary elections in battleground states spotlight Trump’s hold on the GOP

May. 20, 2022 AT 5:23 p.m. EDT

Critical primary elections were held this week in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In the Tarheel state, candidates endorsed by former President Trump had mixed results. In Pennsylvania, GOP Senate candidates Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are locked in a tight race to challenge Democrat John Fetterman as election denier Doug Mastriano won the Republican primary for governor.

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Alcindor : So we have to talk about the midterms because directly connected to what Robert was just talking about. This week, critical primary elections played out in key battleground states. North Carolina and Pennsylvania and the Tar Heel State of North Carolina, candidates endorsed by former President Trump had mixed results.

And in Pennsylvania, there's a matchup that could alter the balance of the U.S. Senate. For Republicans, the race between Mehmet Oz and hedge fund giant David McCormick is too close to call. The winner will take on Democratic challenger John Fetterman and Republican candidate for Governor Doug Mastriano easily won his bid. He has openly questioned the outcome of the 2020 election and if he wins, he would play an important role in certifying Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential election results.

All of this, of course, setting up the stage for what is going to be pivotal races to come next week. So, Kelsey, I want to come back to you. This was, of course, a wild week in midterms. We saw, of course, and Doug Mastriano win the GOP nomination to be governor.

What does it say that someone who is questioning the legitimacy of American democracy can win both for that race but also for the GOP and the future of this country?

Snell : Well, I think it speaks to the dumps between the -- well, the potential difference between electability in a primary and electability in a general election. The thing that can win over a majority of voters in a single party has in the past been a liability in some cases -- when it comes to a general election and that is what Democrats are banking on. They're banking on the fact that voters will reject candidates like this when it comes to a question of the whole electorate and not a choice within a party.

But then as you said, what does this say about the Republican Party right now? Well, it says a lot about who is willing to show up in the Republican Party to vote, and I think that’s something that Republicans have struggled with, and I think it’s an identity question that, you know, I talked to kind of old school Republicans, people who have been around for a long time.

And they don't have an answer about who -- how to address that. They don't know really what to say about who their party is right now. And you know, the question that we'll be watching in this midterm election is how the total electorate feels about that. How does the majority of the population in a state really feel about the politics of the Republican Party embracing right now?

Alcindor : And Toluse, in that -- in that Senate race, we have now former President Trump pushing Dr. Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon, to declare victory when it's clear he has not won. We covered, of course, former President Trump together.

I wonder what you make of the fact that he is continuing to really push people to do things that are unprecedented when it comes to our elections and continuing to have a really heavy hand in the GOP?

Olorunnipa : Yamiche, I think this is a trial run for the former president. He is seeing 2022 and already starting to make a playbook for 2024. And when there is a close election like we have in Pennsylvania where it’s too close to call, it’s literally too close to be able to determine the winner at this point, former President Trump is essentially saying that Dr. Oz, that the candidate there, because he was ahead at the end of election night, should just declare victory and allow the chips to fall where they may.

It seems like that's something that obviously he tried to do in 2020 when he ended up losing that race even though he was ahead, quote/unquote, on election night because other ballots had not been counted. But it's an attack on the Democratic system and the ideal which says that everyone's vote should be counted even if the votes are still being processed after the election night. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than a couple of hours to determine a winner. And in close elections, the history of the country is to count every vote.

But former President Trump is really attacking that history and he's bringing a lot of Republicans and a lot of heft behind that because all these Republicans are competing for his endorsement. In order to compete for his endorsement they have to essentially line up behind the big lie, attack the integrity of our elections and say that whatever the former president says about elections is right, and it's not right to try to basically say that we shouldn't count all the votes.

There are people overseas that have to vote, whose votes don't get counted sometimes until after the vote is -- until after the day -- the day or the week after the election. So --

Alcindor : Yeah. It takes a while to get people's votes, the counted and to get people to be able to -- to be able to cast their ballot. And it's not a quick process.

Robert, I want to come to you because Democrats also saw John Fetterman win and he was in the hospital when he won. What's your sense, though, what of Fetterman's win means especially when you look at Democrats still trying to craft a message about the economy and trying to really get their ducks in a row for the rest of the midterms?

Samuels : Well, Fetterman looks like a different kind of Democrat. You look at the person who is his chief opponent Conor Lamb who is a more mainstream person. John Fetterman, 6'8", tough-looking dude, who believes in minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, takes the Democratic primary.

I think what that says is that people are looking for some sort of change that they want an idea of a candidate who speaks to them, who speaks for them, who is of the people, and doesn't fully compromise his type of politics is much more aggressive than the typical moderates that we have -- we have typically seen being pushed to run for Senate. And so, this marks a pretty big sea change.

Alcindor : And, Kelsey, of course, there was also Madison Cawthorn, the representative from North Carolina who lost.

We saw a lot of different developments. I’ll let you get into the ones you think are important but what does that race tell you about the change that people want to see as Democrats? Get their ducks in a row and Republicans outed a sitting congressman saying that he had lost their confidence?

Snell : Well, you know, and so interesting, Madison Cawthorn race was that that was a situation where the Republican establishment went after one of their own. We don't see that happen really at all right now. And it was -- it certainly is an anomaly but it shows that there are ways that Republicans could organize themselves around getting members of their party out if they chose to do that. And we haven't really seen a lot of that.

I think -- Robert touched on about Fetterman is really interesting because it goes back to that same electability question because so many Democrats had been picking, you know, that mainstream kind of guy that was kind of a predictable looking Democrat. They thought it had to be a middle of the road guy to win in Pennsylvania. That was wrong.

And I think it's causing a lot of Democrats to have questions about what -- you know, what voters want and who their party is. So, it's -- it's a very -- it's a different struggle for Democrats in a lot of ways because it isn't so much about the identity and the future of how their party approaches major existential questions about democracy, but for Democrats, it is a really big question about who they are.

Alcindor : There are a lot of big questions and I want to give you 10 seconds to also just really quickly -- President Biden is in Asia and trying to talk about sort of international investments at home. What's that tell you about what Democrats are trying to do again only about 20 seconds left but I want to let you weigh in on that because the president is making news there?

Snell : I think that Democrats want to make sure that they can shore up the supply chain and that they can communicate that they can control in economy which is not something that voters believe right now. So that is a big part of what they're looking for.

Alcindor : Certainly. And we're going to be covering the elections in Georgia where there's a lot going on there with the Brian Kemp race and Stacy Abrams and so many others.

But thank you so much for joining us.

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