To some extent, Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate and perhaps even expanding on their majority will rise and fall on how brutal the GOP primaries get. That's where the endorsement of Donald Trump, which inevitably pushes every race to greater extremes, is key to the fortunes of Senate Democrats.
In North Carolina, Trump's surprise endorsement earlier this year of Rep. Ted Budd is starting to yield dividends. Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory, arguably the top two GOP primary opponents, are starting to go to blows over which one is the bigger sell-out.
In support of Trump-backed Budd, the Club for Growth's super PAC recently launched a multipronged, multimillion-dollar attack on McCrory, according to Politico. While a 12-page mailer skewered McCrory's ethics and labeled him "fatally flawed," newly released TV ads declared him a "Trump hater, liberal faker" who had the gall to endorse Mitt Romney in 2012. Gasp.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, went even further in a statement to Politico, calling McCrory “a failed former governor with a record of serious ethical lapses and corruption allegations, supporting subsidies to communist China and more." Ouch.
In response, McCrory charged that Budd was selling out to the highest Beltway bidder.
“He’s standing on the backs of [a] Washington insiders’ group and endorsements with no record whatsoever,” said McCrory, who certainly enjoys higher name recognition across the state. “I don’t need to do that. I can stand on my record of accomplishments, kept promises as a mayor and as a governor. … My opponent’s vote may be for sale, but mine isn’t.”
Former GOP Rep. Mark Walker has also tossed his hat in the ring, but he's reportedly willing to throw in the towel in exchange for a Trump endorsement in a newly drawn congressional district. But that announcement and Walker's exit are on hold while state courts weigh a series of legal challenges to the state's newly reconfigured legislative maps.
But where Democrats are concerned, McCrory is probably the candidate they don't want to face in the general election, which is exactly what McCrory is arguing. He's styling himself as a Glenn Youngkin candidate, and to some extent, it's an apt comparison in terms of temperament. There's three major differences, however. Youngkin ran as a political outsider, which McCrory clearly isn't. Youngkin had Trump's backing, McCrory doesn't. And, perhaps most consequentially, Youngkin never actually endured a traditional primary, which would have included a more intense battle for a larger pool of Republican voters. Instead, a more selective group of GOP voters picked Youngkin over two candidates more akin to Trump and less likely to prevail in the general election. So Youngkin emerged from the whole primary episode virtually unscathed and ultimately clinched Trump's endorsement.
McCrory, on the other hand, will have to survive what is shaping up to potentially be a two-way, knock-down drag-out battle with a well-financed Trump acolyte. Politico reports that Club for Growth's super PAC has committed to dropping no less than $10 million on the effort to bury McCrory, and it's already spent the bulk of that money. So it's a fair bet the group could spend even more before it's all said and done.
One way or the other, the North Carolina GOP is going to emerge with either a Trumper who may not prove palatable to suburban GOP leaners and independents or an establishment candidate who will struggle to motivate Trump's base.
For Democrats, the more Republican acrimony along the way the better, no matter who prevails.