When Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois announced on October 29 that he would not seek reelection to his House seat in 2022, Donald Trump proclaimed “two down eight to go!”
It was a reference to Kinzinger having become the second to announce retirement from Congress among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January -- the first having been Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio. But the last guy’s braggadocio may have just been his latest con.
The 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January were: Kinzinger, Gonzalez and Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, John Katko, of New York; Fred Upton, of Michigan; Jaime Herrera Beutler, of Washington; Dan Newhouse, of Washington; Peter Meijer, of Michigan; Tom Rice, of South Carolina; Anthony Gonzalez, of Ohio; and David Valadao, of California.
While Gonzalez made no secret that his decision not to seek reelection was at least in part motivated by concern for his safety and that of his family, Trump can hardly count Kinzinger as a victim. Kinzinger has gained national stature and he’s toying with running for governor or senator in Illinois -- if not president -- hardly a lateral move from his House seat.
Cheney has been even more of a lightning rod, and it has come at the price of her leadership position in the House Republican Party, which has all but removed her from its ranks. But that doesn’t mean she’s not off today.
Some see her as having detonated a promising political career by standing up to Trump, referenced here in the Washington Post. Others see her as having per herself in position to be as an anti-Trump presidential candidate, referenced here at CNN.
On the flip side, Upton is perhaps the most likely of the group to say simply that he has had enough. He was first election in 1986 -- the Reagan years -- and he and his family have faced abuse and death threats, not only for his impeachment vote but as recently as last month for voting for the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Upton is expected to announce soon whether he’ll run again, but Trump can hardly flatter himself to think the impeachment vote would be why.
In fact, there’s little evidence that Trump’s public words of vengeance are having anywhere near their intended effect of terrorizing his tormenters. Perhaps the best example came this week when Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina doubled down on his indifference to Trump’s wrath.
Politico reported Wednesday that Rice has his regrets from January, but not for the impeachment vote that drew him a censure from the South Carolina Republican Party. Instead, it was for his decision at the time to vote against certifying President Joe Biden’s election.
“In retrospect I should have voted to certify,” Rice told Politico. “Because President Trump was responsible for the attack on the Capitol.”
Even more bodacious, Rice called out Trump for his cowardice on January 6. Here’s how Politico reported it:
“Rice argued the outgoing president watched ‘with pride’ from the safety of the White House and ‘did nothing to stop it’ —despite pleas from Trump's friends and family — as Capitol Police were beaten for hours, the House was ‘sacked and defaced’, and Vice President Mike Pence and his family fled for their lives. The result, Rice noted, was five dead and hundreds injured.
“There was a coward in that equation,’ Rice said. ‘But it wasn’t Mike Pence.’"
Rice is no progressive. He continued in Politico to repeat nonsense about “real issues with the election” and to tout his 94 percent pro-Trump voting record. But less than six weeks after Trump put out a statement begging for challengers to Rice and the others who voted to impeach, Rice isn’t cowering.
Trump first demanded at a CPAC conference in March that his followers “throw them all out.” And he reiterated it in a public statement on his faux presidential letterhead that was Tweeted by a spokesperson:
“Any interest from good and SMART America First Republican Patriots to run primary campaigns against Representatives Tom Rice, John Katko, Don Bacon, Don Young, Fred Upton (challenge accepted), Andrew Garbarino, Peter Meijer (challenge accepted), David McKinley (challenge accepted), Nancy Mace, Jaime Herrera Beutler (challenge accepted) and Chris Smith?” Trump tweeted.
“You will have my backing!”
That said, it remains unclear what price -- if any -- most of those on Trump’s modern-day Enemies List will pay politically (it included several representatives who didn’t vote to impeach). Trump has been well-known “to pad his win rate by endorsing in a bunch of uncompetitive primaries,” as fivethirtyeight.com reported recently.
“He is actively putting his clout on the line more often in hopes of installing more of his loyalists in Congress and governor’s offices — and purging the GOP of his critics.” The website concluded that Trump’s choices are “earlier, bolder and more dangerous that when he was president.”
One example is Herrera Beutler’s challenge from former Green Beret Joe Kent, who Trump has endorsed. Herrera Beutler is a six-term member of Congress who won her 2020 race by 13% and she will benefit from Washington non-partisan primary system, reports Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).
David Wasserman, of The Cook Political Report, said Herrera Beutler is a lock to at least make the November ballot.
“Herrera Beutler has one thing on the rest of the field, and that’s universal name recognition,” Wasserman said. “That alone is likely to propel her to the top spot.”
Come November, it’s hard to see a scenario where Herrera Beutler isn’t favored. In a district as purple as Southwest Washington — Democrats and Republicans have each held the seat twice in the last three decades — the moderate congresswoman can use her impeachment vote and Republican nameplate to balance the scales.
“If she were to face a Democrat in the fall, she would likely clobber the Democrat,” Wasserman said. “If she were to face Joe Kent in an all-Republican runoff, she would likely be able to win enough votes from Democrats to overcome Kent.”
Newhouse, Herrera Beutler’s Republican colleague in Washington, won with 66% of the vote in 2020. He, too, drew a gaggle of Republican Primary challengers as a result of his impeachment vote, but his primary scenario is the same as hers, meaning he’s unlikely to face much jeopardy.
In another West Coast blue state, Trump’s most recent screed didn’t cite Valadao, but the California congressman may have bigger problems than a primary. His seat is a major target of the Democrats -- he won it by less than 1 percent in 2020 after losing it in 2018 as a three-term incumbent.
In New York, Katko’s vote against Trump has drawn him multiple primary foes, but he also faces a greater challenge: Redistricting in New York might throw him in a merged district with another moderate Republican, Rep. Claudia Tenney. Trump has already pledged to support her if that occurs.
Meijer was elected as a freshman in 2020 only to experience the Capitol insurrection on his third day in office -- he was reportedly looking for help finding a restroom when the Capitol was breached. Now he has quite a prominent name and was featured recently in an Atlantic piece headlined, “WHAT THE GOP DOES TO ITS OWN DISSENTERS: After January 6, Peter Meijer thought he could help lead the Republican Party away from an abyss. Now he laughs at his own naïveté.”
Probably as much as any journalism on the subject, the Atlantic captures the complexity of political life for an upstart Republican congressman who dared challenge Trump. But almost in passing, it also noted this:
“Meijer will face multiple primary challengers in 2022, including a Trump-administration official, John Gibbs, who already has the former president’s endorsement against “RINO Congressman Peter Meijer.” Because of the district’s moderate makeup and his ample finances, Meijer is favored to win reelection. What comes next is murkier.”