Given the cheering coming from various corners of the right, it would seem as though Republicans emerged triumphant from Tuesday’s primaries in New York and Colorado. However, that would be mistaken.

Yes, Representative Jamaal Bowman, member of the House of Representatives’ progressive squad, lost his primary in a district on the outskirts of New York City. This is a cause for celebration. But the celebration should be coming from the center-left, because they, not conservatives, ejected a caustic member of their coalition in a closed primary. Republicans played little, if any, part in Bowman’s defeat.

Meanwhile, Republican voters in Colorado’s fourth Congressional District walked into voting booths on Tuesday, said “Beetlejuice” three times, and in doing so conjured Lauren Boebert another term in the House, where she’ll spend the next two years tormenting the few remaining conservatives capable of experiencing embarrassment.

Regardless of politics, all Americans serious about our country’s future should agree that fire-alarm-pulling, f-bomb-dropping, chair-wielding clowns like Bowman should be kept out of the halls of power. Such basic standards should elevate above the day-to-day skirmishes of democratic self-governance. Given the extent of partisan self-sorting in recent decades, efforts to excommunicate the weirdos and wacks unfortunately fall on those ideologically aligned. After all, primary voters elevate those like Bowman in our politics because snarling partisans know how to scratch an itch. But just as it is improper to scratch an itch in front of polite company, it is irresponsible for voters to pull a lever for the Bowmans of American politics. Self-governance requires self-restraint.

This brings me back to Republicans. All too often, Republicans nominate candidates that appeal to the conservative id only to have them crash and burn in the general election. Simultaneously, Republicans have seldom sent their clowns back to the circus. Boebert’s survival is just the latest example. All the pie-throwing and car-horn-honking going on in the House is causing some of the Republican Party’s most talented members to call it quits on electoral politics.

This trend costs Republicans dearly.

For example, the inability of Republican primary voters to distinguish between political substance and satisfaction caused Republicans to miss out on securing a Senate majority in 2010, 2012, and 2022. It is also why Republicans ended up with a paper-thin majority in the House after the last midterms.

Few voters repeat this folly more consistently than Republicans in Pennsylvania. For two midterms in a row, Republicans in the Keystone State nominated candidates for statewide office that are great at amping up their own side, only to discover it takes more than a plurality of one’s own primary voters to win a general election in a closely divided state.

Democrats notice how Republicans prefer one marshmallow now rather than two later. This encouraged Democrats to play the dangerous game of quietly promoting wingnuts in Republican primaries in the hope voters take the bait. Republicans time and again oblige. Some free advice for fellow conservatives: If Democrats want you to vote for a candidate in a primary, you probably shouldn’t.

There is cause for optimism, however. In 2020, Republicans in Pennsylvania ran conscientious, serious, and yes, a little boring general election candidates for Treasurer and Auditor General. This prudence paid off. Stacy Garrity and Tim DeFoor won their respective elections despite Donald Trump losing statewide. These two genuine conservatives are too busy getting the job done to scratch the partisan itch.

Primary voters have perhaps taken notice.

Pennsylvania Republicans are running the 2020 playbook again by nominating Dave McCormick for Senate and Rob Mercuri for the 17th Congressional District. This is an improvement. However, nominating better candidates isn’t enough. Republicans need to start handing Boebert and her ilk one-way tickets on the clown car out of D.C.

Democrats policed their own side last night. Republicans failed to follow suit. If Republicans underperform this November like they did in the 2022 midterms, it is because they spend too much time cheering online and too little cleaning house.

Seth Higgins, a native of Saint Marys, Pennsylvania, specializes in bringing conservative thought to local government. Seth is a former Tablet Magazine Fellow and a former Krauthammer Fellow with The Tikvah Fund.

2 thoughts on “Seth Higgins: Republicans learned the wrong lesson from Tuesday’s primaries”

  1. Some things never change.
    In the run-up to the 1860 election, Pennsylvania Republican leaders thought Lincoln was too radical and preferred Cameron – a “moderate” on slavery.
    I’m so old I remember arguing with 1970s Delco GOP leaders who insisted that Ronald Reagan could never win Pennsylvania – too conservative.
    In modern times, our Pa. GOP leaders hated Trump in 2016 and 2020; they hate him still.
    The best you can hope for with spineless, Seth Higgins-type Republicans are Tom Corbett and Mehmet Oz.
    More likely, you’ll get Arlen Specter.

  2. In my opinion the lesson from the election of Boebert in Colorado is that the Republicans there have finally learned to use mail-in voting.

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