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The Morning Dispatch: A Big Night for GOP Incumbents
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The Morning Dispatch: A Big Night for GOP Incumbents

Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger prevail in Georgia, while Kay Ivey and John Boozman hold off Trump-style challengers elsewhere.

Our hearts break for the 21 victims of the latest act of barbarity in the United States, and for all those who loved them. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • At least 21 people are dead—including 19 children and two adults—after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire on Tuesday afternoon at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 85 miles west of San Antonio. According to Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Erick Estrada, the gunman shot his own grandmother before driving to the school, where he crashed his car and—after engaging with law enforcement outside—entered the building wearing body armor. The gunman was killed at the scene.

  • Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas held primary and runoff elections on Tuesday. Some key takeaways:

    • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will face off against former State Rep. Stacey Abrams in November after more than tripling former Sen. David Perdue’s vote share in the Republican primary.

    • Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will go up against State Rep. Bee Nguyen in November after defeating Rep. Jody Hice in the Republican primary.

    • Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia will face former University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker, a Republican, in November.

    • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene easily fended off Republican primary challengers in Georgia, and Rep. Lucy McBath defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux after their districts were combined in the redistricting process.

    • Former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders easily won Arkansas’ Republican gubernatorial primary, and will face Democratic physicist and minister Chris Jones in November.

    • Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary will likely head to a runoff between Katie Britt—former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby—and Rep. Mo Brooks after Britt failed to surpass the state’s requisite 50 percent threshold. She did, however, lead Brooks by about 17 percentage points as of 1:30 a.m.

    • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton easily defeated Land Commissioner George P. Bush—son of Jeb Bush—in a runoff for the Republican attorney general nomination.

    • Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas—the last pro-life Democrat in the House—declared victory in his runoff against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros, but Cisneros—trailing by less than 200 votes—has not yet conceded, and major decision desks have not yet called the race.

  • A Centers for Disease Control report released Tuesday found the U.S. birth rate increased in 2021 for the first time since 2014. The number of babies born in the United States declined by an average of 2 percent per year from 2014 to 2020, but ticked back up by about 1 percent from 2020 to 2021. The total fertility rate—a measure of the average number of children  a woman will have in her life—inched up to 1.66 from 1.64 in 2020, but remains well below the “replacement” level of 2.1. The birth rate for teenagers, meanwhile, declined 6 percent last year, and has fallen 65 percent since 2007. 

  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will be transferred to a high-security prison after losing an appeal of his new, nine-year sentence for fraud and contempt of court that was levied on top of a two-and-a-half-year sentence he was given for violating the terms of his probation. Human rights organizations and critics of the Putin regime have decried the charges as trumped up and politically motivated.

  • Japan scrambled its jets on Tuesday in response to a Russian and Chinese joint military exercise—the first since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—that sent warplanes into Japan and South Korea’s air defense identification zones while President Joe Biden met with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India in Tokyo. Earlier this morning, on the heels of Biden’s trip to the region, South Korean military officials said North Korea launched three ballistic missiles off its east coast and into the sea—the country’s 17th such test this year.

  • Politico reported Tuesday President Biden has finalized his decision to continue designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, conveying the news to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and likely dooming his administration’s efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

  • An unsealed search warrant reported by Forbes yesterday revealed the FBI foiled a plot involving four Iraqi nationals to assassinate former President George W. Bush at his home in Texas. The plotters—one of whom inadvertently shared the plans with an FBI informant—“wished to kill former President Bush because they felt that he was responsible for killing many Iraqis and breaking apart the entire country of Iraq,” the FBI said in the filing.

  • The Census Bureau reported Tuesday sales of newly built homes fell 16.6 percent from March to April, the largest month-over-month decline since 2013. The seasonally adjusted estimate of 591,000 new houses sold last month was the lowest amount since April 2020, and comes as the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has risen to 5.3 percent from 3.1 percent in January.

  • World Health Organization member states on Tuesday re-elected Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to serve a second five-year term as director-general of the public health agency. He ran unopposed after member states neglected to put forth alternative candidates.

The Incumbents Strike Back

(Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)

For a number of reasons, May 24 is an important day in world history. In 1844, Samuel Morse unveiled the telegraph to the world, sending the message “What hath God wrought?” to lawmakers waiting in anticipation at the Capitol. In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur and New York Gov. Grover Cleveland oversaw the grand opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, then the largest suspension bridge ever built. In 1935, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the first-ever night game in major league history, and in 1941, Bob Dylan was born.

But political pundits have had May 24, 2022, circled on their calendar for months, elevating it as the day that would tell us once and for all how much control Donald Trump still has over the GOP. Sure, the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries in recent weeks provided some visibility into the Republican electorate’s feelings toward the former president, but Trump endorsement recipients J.D. Vance and Dr. Mehmet Oz were running in crowded, open primaries in which there were multiple candidates vying for the so-called “Trump lane,” and they both ended up with just under a third of the vote. In Georgia’s primary, the stakes were much clearer: Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to go along with Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and former Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Jody Hice, respectively, were challenging them for precisely that reason. It didn’t go well for the single-issue Stop the Stealers.

There are still a few ballots left to tabulate, but decision desks declared Kemp the victor within an hour of polls closing, and he currently leads Perdue by a whopping 52 percentage points. Once left for political dead within the GOP after rejecting Trump’s calls to “find” nearly 12,000 votes for him, Raffensperger not only received more votes than Hice, he received a majority of the votes cast, surpassing the threshold necessary to avoid a runoff in the state. “The vast majority of Georgians are looking for honest people in elected office,” Raffensperger told those gathered to listen to his victory speech. “I think people are tired of the lying and bickering, and they’re tired of the incompetence.”

Setting aside the fact that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won her primary with nearly 70 percent of the vote, Raffensperger may have a point. “Georgia Republicans do like Trump, but they’re tired of his b——t and want to move on,” prominent Georgia-based conservative commentator Erick Erickson said as the results trickled in. The former president endorsed in Georgia’s gubernatorial, secretary of state, attorney general, Senate, lieutenant governor, House and insurance commissioner races. He walks away with guaranteed primary victories in just a handful of unopposed (or mostly unopposed) House races, and in the U.S. Senate race, where college football star Herschel Walker would have been just fine without Trump’s backing.

Trump-style challengers—whether formally endorsed by the former president or not—fared similarly poorly on Tuesday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, for example, sailed to renomination against a former Trump administration diplomat. Sen. John Boozman did the same in Arkansas against former NFL player, Jake Bequette, whose bid was funded by far-right billionaire provocateur, Richard Uihlein.

Andrew and Michael reported from Georgia on Kemp’s victory over Perdue. You can read their whole piece here

Eighteen minutes before polls closed in Georgia’s primaries Tuesday night, workers wheeled tubs of iced champagne through the College Football Hall of Fame.

Though likely standard fare for the open bars flanking Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s election watch party, the celebratory staple wasn’t out of place. No one walking into the party doubted what the Republican gubernatorial primary’s result would be. The question was the margin of Kemp’s victory.

In the months ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primaries in Georgia, former Sen. David Perdue’s challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp had been billed as a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s “revenge tour”—retribution against those Republicans who failed to line up behind his abortive attempt to steal the 2020 election from Joe Biden. Kemp’s transgression was failing to call a special session of the legislature to let Republicans try to impanel an “alternate” slate of Trump-supporting electors despite Biden’s victory in the state. In recent months, Trump traveled to Georgia to stump for Perdue and to castigate Kemp as a “RINO” and a “turncoat,” a “coward” and a “complete and total disaster.”

But in the end, it just wasn’t close. Less than two hours after voting ended, with only about 10 percent of precincts reporting, major outlets started sticking a fork in Perdue. With 95 percent of the ballots counted as of Wednesday morning, Kemp is on track to win by 52 percentage points (74 percent to Perdue’s 22 percent).

On the ground with the candidates, the outcome was clear even earlier than that. You could practically smell the futility coming off the Perdue event, held in a grim conference room at a Cobb County Sheraton, a 20-minute drive from Kemp’s raucous party. Only a couple dozen supporters were on hand to drink and munch hors d’oeuvres as the results came in; a few top boosters, including Trump ally Bruce LeVell and DeKalb County GOP Chair Marci McCarthy, took the stage to offer brief, pro forma remarks.

“We need to keep Georgia red,” McCarthy said. “But not just the red that is the RINO—it is the red that is the MAGA.”

It was the culmination of weeks of stagnation.

By primary week, the “revenge tour” script had been totally flipped—far from an occasion for Trump to show his dominance, the race had become an opportunity for his former vice president, Mike Pence, to flaunt his independence. Pence joined Kemp on the campaign trail the day before the primary.

… 

Perdue’s total collapse may even have contributed to the surprise success of another Trump-opposed candidate: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has secured 52 percent of the vote in his primary, enough to avoid a runoff against Trump-backed challenger Rep. Jody Hice.

If political reporters have framed Tuesday’s Republican primary as a showdown between Trump and an adversary, several Kemp supporters who came to rally behind their governor Tuesday made clear which side they’re on. “There’s a case that [Trump] is the worst person that we’ve ever had as president,” Eric Oliver, who voted for Trump both in 2016 and 2020, told The Dispatch. “People are done with his toxic chaos.”

Worth Your Time

  • COVID-19 lockdowns and remote schooling have resulted in massive amounts of learning loss in children, and it will take years to make it up—if it can be made up at all. “Adults are free to disagree about whether school closures were justified or a mistake. But either way, children should not be stuck with the bill for a public-health measure taken on everyone’s behalf,” education researcher Thomas Kane writes in The Atlantic, pointing to tutoring, increased summer school uptake, and longer school years as ways to chip away at the problem. “Like any other parent who witnessed their child dozing in front of a Zoom screen last year, I was not surprised that learning slowed. However, as a researcher, I did find the size of the losses startling. … Reversing pandemic-era achievement losses will take aggressive action over the next several years. And yet the problem also presents an opportunity for any governor or mayor or superintendent looking to make meaningful improvements in children’s education. Federal aid is available. No obvious partisan roadblocks stand in the way. Most communities just need leadership—and a sufficiently ambitious recovery plan.“

  • With national average gas prices hitting a record-high $4.60 per gallon on Tuesday, Matt Yglesias’ latest Slow Boring newsletter focuses on the devastating ripple effects of expensive energy. “People treat their gas and utility expenses as quasi-fixed because altering them is hard. In other words, they respond to expensive energy by economizing on things that aren’t energy: by canceling a Netflix subscription, by skipping date night to avoid babysitting expenses, by making do rather than replacing a broken microwave. Indeed, fresh research suggests that a $1 increase in gas prices generates essentially a $1 reduction in non-gas spending in the short term,” he writes. “[And] high energy prices are a negative supply shock to almost every business you can think of. For some businesses, like smelting aluminum, it’s an incredibly bad negative shock; for others, it’s pretty mild. But while the economy can adjust from a supply shock to one sector, a supply shock hitting almost every sector simultaneously creates a really bad problem.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • In the wake of Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, David’s latest French Press makes the case for strengthened and enforced red flag laws. “A well-drafted red flag law should contain abundant procedural safeguards, including imposing a burden of proof on the petitioner, hearing requirements, and a default expiration date unless the order is renewed through a clear showing of continued need,” he writes. “But its potential effectiveness is crystal clear.”

  • In Tuesday’s Uphill, Audrey checks in on alleged ties between certain House Republicans and January 6 rioters and details what’s next in the January 6 Committee’s investigation.

  • In this week’s Sweep (🔒), Sarah touches on senators’ “statewide brands” and which party will benefit more from redistricting before she goes deep on the recount in Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. “The recount itself will be fairly straightforward. Every county must count its ballots in a different way than how they were initially counted—by hand or a different machine—and report its results no later than June 7,” she writes. “But that’s not where the action is going to be. This election will be decided by contested absentee ballots.”

  • Jim Pethokoukis makes his long-awaited Remnant return to talk with Jonah about dynamism in American life, the potential for a new Roaring ‘20s, and the future of technology. Is there a case for universal basic income? Will Elon Musk become the next Howard Hughes? And what can we expect from the new space age?

  • On last night’s Dispatch Live, David and Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta discussed the state of the Evangelical church and the recent Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse report, before being joined by Sarah and Andrew for real-time reactions to Tuesday’s primary returns. If you missed the discussion—or want to watch it again—Dispatch members can do so here.

  • On the site today, Divyansh Kaushik highlights the problems with the H-1B visa program for skilled workers and argues that the U.S. should make it easier for highly qualified STEM students to secure green cards. And Jonah laments how no one in Washington wants to discuss bipartisan accomplishments, even when they happen.

Let Us Know

Is Donald Trump finally losing his grip on the GOP? With Mike Pence challenging him more forcefully and the massive victories in Georgia for two candidates Trump badly wanted to defeat, will Republican elected officials be more willing to distance themselves from the former president and his election lies? 

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.