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Editorial: Republicans in NH must choose path

  • New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc smiles during a primary night campaign gathering, Tuesday Sept. 13, 2022, in Hampton, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) Reba Saldanha

Published: 9/19/2022 1:35:51 PM
Modified: 9/19/2022 1:35:12 PM

Tuesday’s primary election results did not resolve the struggle over the desiccated soul of New Hampshire’s Republican Party, but they do strongly suggest that the wing-nut wing of the party is ascendant at the top of the ticket this fall.

Don Bolduc — retired Army general, conspiracy theorist and 2020 election denier who now denies his denial but who is open to abolishing the FBI in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search — narrowly defeated state Sen. President Chuck Morse for the U.S. Senate nomination, thereby earning the opportunity to face incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan in November. Morse had the backing of the party’s popular governor, Chris Sununu, and national GOP leaders who poured $4.5 million into his campaign, all to no avail. Morse won most of the state’s larger communities, but Bolduc blitzed him in the red zone of smaller towns.

The race for the First Congressional District nomination pitted two former Trump administration officials — Karoline Leavitt and Matt Mowers — in a battle over who most faithfully embodied the Trump brand. The Republican leader in the U.S. House backed Mowers, but Leavitt out MAGA-ed him. She will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas in the fall. Robert Burns, an anti-abortion candidate who also ran to the right of his opponents, picked up the GOP nomination in the Second District, which includes the Upper Valley, and will oppose incumbent Annie Kuster in November. Sununu backed Keene Mayor George Hansel in that primary race.

Although his influence with Republican voters may be waning, Sununu had his moments, too. He won renomination handily over five opponents and is heavily favored to win re-election in November. And voters in Belknap County heeded his call to oust a group of libertarian Free State representatives whose controversial oversight of the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort roiled politics in that area.

What seems safe to say is that the party is seething with internal tensions between Trump acolytes and less extreme conservatives. Many mainstream Granite State Republicans feared that extremists like Bolduc and Leavitt would fail to appeal to the more moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and independents whose support is generally critical to Republican success in New Hampshire, and that their victories would diminish the party’s chances of flipping the U.S. Senate and House seats into the red column. (Bolduc has apparently reached the same conclusion. The day after the primary, he reversed field on the 2020 election results after falsely claiming for years that the election was stolen from Trump.)

National Democrats seem to have made the same calculation as mainstream Republicans, spending heavily to tarnish Morse as “another sleazy politician.” All over the country, in fact, Democratic leaders backed Republican primary candidates whom they thought too extreme to be elected in November. Many of those won their primaries.

This Democratic strategy strikes us as unhealthy, unsavory and probably unnecessary, and falls into the risky category of “be careful what you wish for.”

The most intriguing question posed by the primary results is whether and how strongly the party establishment will rally to Bolduc, Leavitt and Burns. The dilemma is best personified by Sununu, who denounced Bolduc during the campaign as a conspiracy theorist and an extremist, but who has also signaled that he would support the party’s eventual nominee. That would be a walk on the high wire, given that Bolduc last year called Sununu “a communist sympathizer” whose family supported terrorism — opinions he has since backed away from, but possibly still holds.

The ever-shrinking sanity wing of the Republican Party across the country now faces a similarly stark choice: effectively sitting out the midterm elections or rallying behind Trump loyalists who promote the absurd lies the former president continues to spread about, among many other things, the 2020 election, the FBI search of his Florida residence and the Jan. 6 insurrection.

For the rest of voters, it should be a much easier call. Do they want to elect to Congress candidates who will abet Trump’s ongoing attempt to seize power and establish authoritarian rule by corrupting the 2024 electoral process? We don’t think so, but we also don’t take that outcome for granted




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