GOP primaries take nasty turn, even without Trump: The Note

Republican Senate candidates will take the stage in Pennsylvania Wednesday.

March 30, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It turns out Republicans don't need former President Donald Trump to make their intraparty fights nasty - and that's not even counting what Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., is saying about his colleagues' after-hour activities.

Midway through a busy forum-and-debate season in primaries, it's striking how personal and ugly some of the highest-profile races have gotten in contests for the Republican nomination.

The leading Republican Senate candidates in Pennsylvania will all share a stage for the first time Wednesday morning at a candidate forum.

Already in that race, David McCormick’s campaign has accused Dr. Mehmet Oz of harboring "dual loyalties" because Oz has maintained Turkish citizenship. For his part, Oz is airing a campaign ad asserting that McCormick is "China's friend" who made money on Chinese investments after "China sent us COVID."

In this Feb. 27, 2022, file photo Dr. Oz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla.
Octavio Jones/Reuters, FILE

Over in Ohio, two GOP Senate candidates bumped chests and almost came to blows over foreign investments and credentials in the private sector at a recent debate. In the governor's race, the main Republican challenger to Gov. Mike DeWine has said the governor of his own party has inflicted "misery" on Ohioans and is the "biggest RINO in America today."

That term – short for "Republican in name only" – is also coursing through a House primary in West Virginia where two GOP incumbents are running against each other because of redistricting. One candidate is calling his rival a "RINO" who likes to work with President Joe Biden; the target of that attack has labeled his colleague a "political prostitute," citing his previous runs for office in other states.

Trump himself has poured fuel on intra-party fights of late. He revoked an endorsement in Alabama just last week, and used a weekend trip to Georgia to refresh attacks on incumbent Republicans who didn't back up his lies about the 2020 election.

The political environment may be such that Republicans win big this fall even while scorching each other during the primaries. For now, though, GOP candidates are spending time and money elevating issues that are likely to live through November in attack ads.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., joined the chorus of progressive lawmakers calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to resign.

It comes amid continued fallout from the discovery of text messages from Thomas' wife, Ginni Thomas, to former president Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows, urging him to overturn the election in the lead up to Jan. 6.

"Clarence Thomas should resign. If not, his failure to disclose income from right-wing organizations, recuse himself from matters involving his wife, and his vote to block the Jan 6th commission from key information must be investigated and could serve as grounds for impeachment," she wrote in a tweet.

Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rallies with volunteers today in Jackson Heights, Queens, as part of her 2022 election campaign, March 27, 2022.
dpa via AP

Ocasio-Cortez joins lawmakers including Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who have called for resignation. Some lawmakers, like Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. have called on Thomas to recuse himself, citing a conflict of interest. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation.

If Thomas doesn't bow to the pressure and recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases, the other recourse is impeachment, which is highly unlikely. Impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice, even if there were an appetite for it, is rare. Only one has been impeached, Justice Samuel Chase in 1804. He was ultimately acquitted.

Thus far, Republicans have backed Thomas.

"Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding Justice," Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement Friday. "I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the Court."

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Redistricting fallout continues to take a front seat in several states' primary calendars by creating legal hurdles and raising the stakes for parties' prospects in November.

In Ohio -- where early voting for primary elections begins next week -- the state Supreme Court decided Tuesday it would not rule on a case challenging the state's current congressional district maps that heavily favor Republicans and which voting rights groups say are gerrymandered.

The parties involved in the lawsuit now have nearly a month to provide evidence and written arguments, leaving a broader window for the court to give its decision, which could overlap with the May 3 primary election. For now, the state has not altered its election calendar in anticipation of issues stemming from the ongoing redistricting battle.

In this Feb. 24, 2022, file photo, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla.
Octavio Jones/Reuters, FILE

Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis broke with the GOP-led legislature by vetoing congressional maps backed by state lawmakers of his own party. DeSantis also called for a special April legislative session to draw new maps. Although it is unlikely Florida's election calendar could be thrown off over the current state of the redistricting process given its August primary date, the lingering questions about what areas district borders end up covering could still hinder candidates' campaigning abilities.

The move was expected, given the governor previously said he would reject the proposal while favoring his own version of the maps, which would give Republicans an even stronger political advantage. However, the map that ultimately is created during the upcoming special session is also likely to face challenges in court.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

41. That’s the percentage of Americans who approve of President Biden’s job performance, near his all-time low according to FiveThirtyEight’s real-time average of public opinion polls. Biden's approval ratings, which had been north of 50 percent during his first 200 days in office, began to steadily decline in the summer of 2021, reaching the low 40s by the end of last year. Then, in late February and into March, his numbers improved a smidge – the share of Americans saying they approved of his performance ticked up from about 41 percent to 43 percent, and the share saying they disapproved fell from just over 53 percent to roughly 51 percent. That's not a big change, of course. But it was significant given how polarized American politics have grown, and it raised at least the possibility that Biden could turn the trends around. Not so much, it turns out. Over the last two weeks, Biden's small gains have disappeared.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Wednesday morning with ABC's James Longman in Kyiv after a new round of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. Then, ABC's Anne Flaherty breaks down who's now eligible to receive a second booster shot. And, ESPN's Brooke Pryor talks about the NFL's new change to the Rooney Rule and whether it will aid minority hiring in the league.


  • President Joe Biden receives the president's daily brief and 10:15 a.m., then Biden has lunch with Vice President Kamala Harris at 12:30 p.m. He will then deliver remarks on the country's "fight against COVID," at 1:30 p.m.
  • Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield holds a press briefing at 2:30 p.m.
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