Republican Claire Chase, once an outspoken antagonist of Donald Trump, is now a fan of the president. She praises his “fearless leadership” at every opportunity.
I could be wrong, but Chase’s candidacy for Congress in New Mexico’s 2nd District might have something to do with her attitude adjustment.
Chase publicly criticized Trump as unfit for command when he began his first presidential campaign.
“For all my friends who like Donald Trump, I’m working on a fuller rant than he’s an a**hole unworthy of the office and the power of the President of the United States,” she wrote in a Facebook post in August 2015.
Chase also said Trump couldn’t win. She ripped him and fawned over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But Rubio’s presidential campaign collapsed after Trump routed him in the Florida primary.
Now that Trump is in the White House and Chase covets a seat in the House of Representatives, she no longer is calling him names.
“President Trump has showed us how to take the fight to the liberal elite, the status quo and career politicians,” Chase says in a campaign video. “It’s the kind of fearless leadership America needs. But the fight isn’t over, and he can’t do it alone. Our president needs that same fearless, conservative leadership in Congress.”
Chase says she is the sort of gutsy reformer who can help Trump in Washington.
Yvette Herrell, one of Chase’s competitors for the Republican congressional nomination, just attacked Chase for hypocrisy in a campaign mailer.
This caused many Republicans to squirm, even those who’d said competition would be a healthy way of separating candor from canned platitudes.
Many Republicans fear competition between Herrell and Chase could be deadly to their party’s chances in the 2nd District, which covers the southern half of the state.
Aiming criticism at Herrell, they say the primary election campaign already is degenerating into needless attacks by one Republican against another.
Herrell’s mailer is far from eloquent. Paid for by Yvette4Congress, the ad reproduces Chase’s 2015 denunciation of Trump in which she likened him to a body part. Herrell’s mailer says: “President Trump has enough enemies in Washington, don’t elect Claire Chase.”
I could be wrong, but Herrell’s hardball message seems to be that Chase has backpedaled, groveled and repackaged herself in hopes of winning a seat in the House of Representatives.
Herrell’s mailer, reprinted on social media, drew its share of criticism. Friends and fans of Chase complained that infighting would hurt the Republican Party and enable Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small to win reelection to a second term.
So much for the worth of tough competition. As for candor, I could be wrong, but Chase seemed to disavow it the moment she lunged for Trump’s coattails.
Republicans have dominated the 2nd Congressional District, holding it for 35 of the last 40 years. This is one of the few times they aren’t in power in a place where oil and agriculture are dominant industries.
The seat opened in 2018 when longtime Republican Rep. Steve Pearce ran for governor, a race he lost by 14 percentage points.
Torres Small bested Herrell in a close election for the congressional seat. This proved embarrassing for Herrell in many ways, most notably because she gave a victory speech with thousands of votes still uncounted. Then she lost.
A Fox News commentator tried to rehabilitate Herrell by suggesting, without any evidence, that the election was stolen from her.
Many Republicans are not sold on Herrell’s ability to win a rematch with Torres Small. Herrell’s critics say Chase would be a stronger candidate in the general election.
Torres Small will be tougher to beat running as an incumbent in 2020. Plus, turnout usually spikes in presidential election years, and in New Mexico that tends to benefit Democrats more than Republicans.
Trump says he can carry New Mexico next year, a long shot in any casino. He lost the state to Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points in 2016. Libertarian Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico as a Republican, also was in that race. He received 9 percent of the vote.
Even if Trump’s optimism is unfounded, Chase doesn’t want to be on his bad side. She hopes to sway primary voters who are committed to the president.
Chase will have to hope they don’t review her Facebook posts, such as one from September 2015 that began: “Ugh. I *REALLY* dislike Donald Trump.”
That was then. Now Trump is leading the Republican Party, and Herrell and Chase both say they are disciples.
Torres Small is nicely positioned. She can sit on the sidelines, raising money and waiting to see if the Republicans cannibalize themselves.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.