Could a Conservative Backlash Wipe Out Leading Republicans?
Policy + Politics

Could a Conservative Backlash Wipe Out Leading Republicans?


While the presidential candidates garnered most of the attention in the Super Tuesday primaries, a handful of important down-ballot contests determined the fate of several powerful conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill.

One byproduct of the uproar over billionaire Donald Trump’s relentless march to the GOP presidential nomination has been a conservative wave of challenges to veteran congressional incumbents who might have run afoul of the anti-establishment mood gripping the party.

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Two of the biggest GOP stars with their jobs on the line were Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chair of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the recently installed chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Shelby, who previously chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and served on the Appropriations Committee over the past three decades, faced four challengers in his GOP primary, including Jonathan McConnell, a right wing Republican who attacked Shelby for his “big spending ways.” 

Brady, who has served in the House since 1997, was challenged by former Texas state representative Steve Toth (R), who was backed by several local tea-party affiliated groups. Toth used social media to criticize Brady for not doing enough to undercut President Obama’s policies, such as defunding Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.

But the fear of a Trump-style conservative backlash against incumbents appears to be unfounded – at least for now. Shelby fended off his challengers and garnered 65 percent of the vote to cruise into the general election. Things were much tighter for Brady, who narrowly avoided a runoff with 53.3 percent of the Republican vote.

Related: Free Market Conservative Kevin Brady Takes Over Ways and Means

Shelby spent about a third of his $18 million war chest on the race and told supporters last night that he was taking nothing for granted amid the tumult over the presidential campaign. "We ran the race to win, there's a lot of turmoil in politics," he said, according to media reports.

Another prominent Texan, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, scored a solid victory with more than 61 percent of the vote. Sessions was worried that Trump voters would favor his anti-establishment opponents, according to The Washington Post.

But this is likely to be just the opening act of a long, tense drama involving Capitol Hill and Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

Trump’s fiery rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims and his ambiguous rejection of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan last weekend have alienated many GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas are advising their Republican colleagues to run against Trump, if necessary, in order to hang onto their seats and help preserve a Republican majority in the Senate.