So, after Gohmert launched his unsuccessful bid for state attorney general, would voters in Texas’ 1st congressional district want another provocateur to succeed him?
Republican primary voters instead backed Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.
“I’m a person who likes to be part of a team,” Moran said in a phone interview Friday. As an evangelical Christian, Moran said he sees his mission as a “principled conservative” that strives to find “pragmatic” solutions to help East Texas.
“I can really be a real curator and thoughtful decision maker,” he added.
In early March, Moran won the primary by nearly 40 percentage points, setting himself on course for what should be an easy victory in November. Gohmert has won by at least 45 percentage points in his last seven elections.
Moran’s easy victory was largely ignored by national media, campaign workers and many lawmakers, as the reliable red district will play no part in determining a majority in the midterm elections.
But races like these can have an outsized impact on the internal dynamics of House caucuses, especially when primary voters choose firebrands that garner attention through cable news and social media.
Democrats have had their share of left-leaning winners who have caused problems for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) over the past four years, but Republicans have found themselves with far more agitators — and spoilers. rules-breakers, norm-breakers and white supremacists — who have caused endless headaches over the past decade for two GOP speakers, John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis. ), and now Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California).
Two years ago, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) defeated a brain surgeon in a runoff to claim the seat of a retired 10-year-old veteran who dedicated his last two years in power to a bipartisan effort to improve the functioning of Congress. Greene, who easily beat several GOP primary challengers this week, suggested she will issue a series of demands before voting for McCarthy for president if Republicans win a majority.
Gohmert is one of 16 House Republicans who have decided to retire or seek another office, nearly all from safe GOP seats. So these Republican primaries will help determine whether Greene will end up with more agitating allies or whether their numbers will be small enough that GOP leaders can avoid pandering to their purity demands.
So far this spring, the government wing of the GOP has had some success.
Earlier this month, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.), whose actions landed him in an ethics probe just 16 months from taking office, lost to a state senator backed by the establishment, Chuck Edwards. Victor accused Cawthorn of being a performative politician who devoted little time to constituent services and whose personal behavior embarrassed western North Carolina.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) — who spoke at the pre-riot rally and asked attendees if they were “ready to do what it takes to fight for America” — had won his six elections in his northern Alabama district so easily that Democrats didn’t bother fielding a challenger in 2020. He frequently clashed with Boehner and Ryan, and after the riot in On Capitol Hill, GOP leaders privately questioned whether his comments put people at risk.
Like Gohmert, Brooks left behind his security seat for a statewide office, finishing second in Tuesday’s Senate primary and heading to a runoff next month.
In the race to succeed Brooks, Dale Strong, chairman of the Madison County commission, led the rest of the field by more than 20 percentage points, finishing just short of the 50% mark needed to avoid a second. round.
Strong presents as a staunch Trump supporter – he greeted him at a 2016 rally in front of 20,000 people in northern Alabama – and ran an ad bragging about being “conservative Trump Dale Strong for Congress.
But his campaign launch was much more about his Christian values and his years as a firefighter. Its website does not list “election integrity” among its most important issues, although a Facebook post last year included a line that Trump “IS our president and will be again!”
He will have to pass a more conspiratorial candidate in the second round, Casey Wardynski, who served as deputy secretary of the military in the last two years of the Trump administration. Wardynski questioned whether the “FBI had provocateurs in the crowd” on Jan. 6, 2021, and his campaign cites “restoring election integrity” as a major issue.
But that trend isn’t playing out everywhere, and GOP leaders face a tough spot in Georgia’s 10th congressional district, where stalwart conservative Jody Hice (R) lost his bid for secretary of state.
In the race to succeed Hice, the two Republicans who qualified for the second round have embraced Trump’s campaign lies and both want to deny McCarthy the big hammer. “I would like President Trump to be Speaker of the House,” Vernon Jones, whom the ex-president endorsed, said during the campaign.
In East Texas, Moran said he does not want to be part of this internal drama. He has already started a leadership PAC so he can raise and donate money to other Republican candidates to try to win a majority.
His journey to win the nomination to succeed Gohmert could serve as a boilerplate for other candidates who don’t want to portray themselves as mini Trump clones.
Raised outside of Tyler, In Texas, not far from the Louisiana border, Moran rose through the mainstream conservative ranks, volunteering as a scout leader and serving in several local GOP positions. He spent four years on city council and the last six years as a county judge, an executive post with a lot of responsibility but little direct power.
The former high school quarterback said it takes “persuasive authority” to get things done, claiming his deep-rooted faith has taught him to treat “everyone with respect”.
The business community turned to Moran when Gohmert announced he would step down from his seat, but he also went to every possible meeting with far-right conservative groups loyal to Trump.
He defused the issue of the 2020 election by pointing to his record as a county judge for investing in new voting machines, which he says are considered among the most secure in the country and review voter data to ensure the accuracy of ballots.
It let those Trump voters know he understood their concerns without buying into their bogus plot. “The goal is,” he said, “what can we do from now on?”
Democrats in the long-term race criticized Moran for accepting support from corporate PACs and the candidate, Jrmar Jefferson, who was a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at the 2016 Democratic convention, accused local GOP officials suppress Black votes by placing more electoral seats in wealthier and more white neighborhoods.
“Any act of interference with our voting rights is an attack on your children,” Jefferson told local media.
Moran, 47, pays homage to Gohmert without embracing his more extravagant behavior, praising his “staunch conservative” record that has worked on “freedom” issues.
But there will be big political differences.
Gohmert opposed half of the 16 bills approved by the House to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Cawthorn and Brooks voted against six of these anti-Russian measures.
Moran said he rejects this part of the America First movement and wants more sanctions on Russia and more US troops in Europe, a national security perspective consistent with Reagan-Bush’s worldview.
“We must also take personal sanctions against [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, who is at the center and heart of it all. We have to fight this,” Moran said in a local media appearance earlier this year.
Even though his November run is all but assured, Moran thinks it’s too soon to speak publicly about his committee assignments. He is happy to go where leaders think he can make a difference.
“I have to find the right role for me so that as a team we can move the needle,” he said. “I want to be authentic to who I am.”