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Opinion Tuesday’s primaries were a great sign for non-Trumpian Republicans

Republican Rep. Blake D. Moore won renomination by 32 percentage points in Utah’s 1st Congressional District. (George Frey/AP)
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Tuesday’s Republican primaries confirmed two trends we’ve been seeing throughout this campaign season: GOP voters are not buying Donald Trump’s election lies whole hog, and turnout augurs a big Republican wave in the fall.

Acolytes of the former president have regularly failed to defeat Republican candidates or incumbents who don’t vocally back his fetish about the 2020 election or Jan. 6, 2021. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) turned back a powerful Trump-backed challenger earlier this month, and Tuesday night four of five House members who voted for an independent Jan. 6 commission won renomination. None of those votes was close. The narrowest win for an incumbent who supported the commission was Rep. Blake D. Moore’s 32-point victory in Utah’s 1st Congressional District.

Colorado’s returns were even more encouraging for the party. Businessman Joe O’Dea defeated state Rep. Ron Hanks by nine points in the race to take on Democratic Sen. Michael F. Bennet. Democratic-aligned groups spent big to back Hanks, who they viewed as too extreme for the left-leaning state owing to his attendance at the pro-Trump rally in D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and his belief in Trump’s election lies. O’Dea, who is pro-choice, decisively carried the Denver metropolitan area, a sign that suburban Republicans and independents want to take a different course from Trump’s.

This doesn’t mean that Trump has faded from view or lost all influence. Some of his endorsed candidates won, including Illinois Rep. Mary E. Miller, who defeated fellow Republican Rep. Rodney Davis on Tuesday after their congressional seats were combined during redistricting. But it does mean that many GOP voters are willing to view each candidate’s merits independently of Trump’s whims. It also means that election denialism is a minority taste, even among Republican primary voters.

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The turnout figures were even more encouraging for the party. Including data from Tuesday night, political consultant John Couvillon finds that turnout in Republican primaries is up a whopping 26 percent so far compared with the party’s 2018 primaries. Democratic turnout, on the other hand, is down 4 percent, even though the total turnout in states that have voted is up 10 percent.

These shifts mean that the partisan balance has shifted dramatically. Couvillon finds that, looking just at the 25 states that have voted so far this year, Democrats led the two-party primary vote by six points in 2018. This year, Republicans are leading by six points. That 12-point shift is nearly identical to the shifts toward the GOP gubernatorial candidates in the 2021 elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Those shifts wiped out Democrats at the legislative level in both states: Democrats lost every seat that Biden carried by less than 11.75 points in those states. Democrats hold about 50 House seats below this level.

This is an especially worrying trend for Democrats because so many independents are choosing to vote in GOP contests. In Colorado, for example, independents — who could vote in either party’s primary — chose to vote in the Republican contest by a 15-point margin. North Carolina independents, who can also vote in either party’s race, chose the GOP ballot when voting in person by 25 points.

Democrats may say that’s because Republicans had more hotly contested races in both states, but that flies in the face of the contention that Trump and GOP “extremism” is driving people away. Independents wouldn’t vote in GOP contests if they were utterly turned off by the party’s brand.

Perhaps these trends will shift in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But absent that, it looks like establishment-friendly Republicans, not fringe kooks, will mainly be the party’s nominees. And those people likely have an excellent shot at winning in any area that’s even remotely competitive.