Will Paul Ryan Lose His GOP Primary? Probably Not
Over the weekend, Sarah Palin had a message for House Speaker Paul Ryan: You're going to pay for not getting on board the Trump Train.
The GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee unleashed on her party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, saying, "his political career is over but for a miracle because he has so disrespected the will of the people."
Palin is now backing the House speaker's GOP primary challenger. But primary upsets remain rare and difficult to orchestrate.
That came in response to Ryan saying last week he wasn't ready to endorse his party's de facto presidential nominee just yet. Ryan hasn't even ruled out endorsing Donald Trump down the line like former rivals Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham has. In fact, the two will meet later this week.
But Ryan's initial hesitancy was enough for Palin to throw her support behind the Wisconsin Republican's little-known primary challenger, Paul Nehlen. Speaking on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, she predicted that Ryan will be "Cantored" — or ousted in a GOP primary, just like then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was in a major 2014 upset.
Is Ryan in danger? Not likely. Two years ago, Cantor was caught unprepared in a primary challenge from college professor Dave Brat. It was a huge primary defeat; Cantor lost by double digits. In hindsight, observers said Cantor had lost focus on his Richmond districts and should have seen seeds of upset brewing as Tea Party activists took control in local GOP leadership. The low-turnout primary in an off-year election with no major races driving the top of the ticket didn't help either.
Those seeds don't seem to be sowed in Ryan's district. For one, he's in a state that went heavily for Ted Cruz, not Trump, in last month's primary. The Texas senator carried Ryan's district alone by nearly 20 points. And many conservatives in the state, including many influential talk radio hosts, are staunchly anti-Trump. Ryan comes back to his district frequently (one reason he had to be persuaded to take the job as speaker in the first place) and has $7.6 million in his campaign war chest. A recent Marquette Law School poll gave him a 76 percent approval rating among Republicans.
Palin's own history in supporting primary challengers has been mixed. In fact, she didn't back Brat until after he defeated Cantor.
In 2014, despite bluster from Palin and other Tea Party leaders, no sitting GOP senator lost a primary. Chris McDaniel came closest in Mississippi, but Sen. Thad Cochran prevailed in the GOP runoff after an incredibly personal and nasty contest.
Conservatives also didn't succeed in knocking off now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky as Matt Bevin's much-ballyhooed primary challenge fell short. Bevin did win the open governor's race the following year. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts survived a primary challenge, as did Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. A primary challenge against then-Speaker John Boehner never gained steam, either.
Democrats aren't immune to intraparty turmoil, either. As NPR's Greg Allen recently reported, progressives unhappy with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz are pushing a primary challenger against the Florida congresswoman.
And as much as Trump's rise represents an anti-Washington fervor, only one incumbent has lost a primary challenge so far this year — Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, who is facing a 29-count federal indictment on charges of bribery and fraud.
There are plenty of primaries left this year (most states don't hold their House and Senate primaries at the same time as their presidential contests), so there could still be incumbents ousted. But it's not an easy task — as many as 95 percent of members of Congress are still re-elected.
In addition to Cantor's ouster, here are some of the biggest recent past primary upsets:
But primary losses aren't entirely new. According to the Brookings Institution, in 1992 (a post-redistricting year) 19 House incumbents lost primaries, the highest since 1946 when 18 House incumbents were ousted by their party's voters. In 2012, a total of 13 House members lost primaries, though many were due to redistricting and reapportionment.
The year 1946 also had the highest number of Senate incumbents who lost their primaries, with six ousted. In 1980, four senators lost their primaries.
Some older notable upsets:
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