Donald Trump’s unconventional style and rhetoric has taken him to the very top of the Republican Party.
And whether his approach will work for others is being tested.
Two Republican candidates in down-ballot GOP primaries have been unafraid to embrace many of the presumptive presidential nominee’s trademarks : Tough talk, an aversion to political correctness, and a focus on border security.
Republican Florida Senate hopeful Carlos Beruff and Minnesota House candidate Jason Lewis — one a wealthy developer and the other a former radio talk show host — both bill themselves as sharp-elbowed outsiders with the unique background necessary to fix a dysfunctional government
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Whether either man will win is a test of whether Trump has revealed a new formula for victory in Republican primaries, or if the New York billionaire’s success comes from a profile, background, and circumstances so specific to him that they can’t be copied.
Beruff faces a five-candidate brawl in Florida’s Aug. 30 Senate GOP primary, a race that pits him against two congressmen, the lieutenant governor, and another rich businessman. Lewis won his party’s backing at the state GOP convention on May 7, but he’ll still face an August primary.
“Everyone is looking for people who have common sense and are blunt and are not worried about what comes out of their mouth at every second,” Beruff said in an interview. “They want people who haven’t studied how to be a politician.”
Beruff’s Trump-like approach is evident in his campaign’s first TV ads . In one, Beruff stands next to a TV camera as he tries to show he’s not going to even run advertisements like normal candidates.
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“The experts want me to read a bunch of political crap off this teleprompter,” he said. “Here’s what I have to say: Obama is a disaster.”
He also caused a stir in April, when he called for a travel ban from every Middle Eastern country, except Israel, because of terrorism concerns.
And like Trump, he’s protective of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. He signaled he was open to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare, but stressed he was more interested in finding efficiencies in the program to save money.
Social Security, he said, shouldn’t be changed for anyone currently receiving benefits — because they earned it.
“It’s different than welfare,” he said.
[Related: Trump Floats Female VP Contender Who Disparages ‘Woman Thing’]
A House candidate in Minnesota’s 2nd District, one of the country’s few tossup districts, finds himself in a similar position to Trump.
Former conservative radio host Jason Lewis won the Minnesota GOP’s backing at the party convention earlier this month, but some of his past comments have turned off members of his own party. They fear he’ll be a liability in a general election against a female, openly-gay Democrat.
Lewis called young, single women “non-thinking” on his show in 2012.
He’s also cast doubt on the need to fight the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln “exploited the issue” of Slavery to justify the “War Between the States,” he wrote in a 2011 book. Also on his radio show, Lewis said the “white population” has been “committing political suicide” and “committing cultural suicide,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune .
Lewis has stood by those comments.
“Liberal reporters and typical politicians may not like the bluntness of the way I’ve framed some issues in my career as a voice in the conservative movement,” he said in a campaign statement in February.
He later admitted to fundraising off of the stir his comments had created.
State party officials, even those who previously criticized him , have committed to him now. But Lewis is far from uniting Minnesota Republicans, and he’ll face an Aug. 9 primary against three Republicans in the district, all of whom have
his remarks. Retiring Rep. John Kline, who has held this seat for 14 years, is worried about Lewis’ remarks. “This district is not a right district,” he told the Star-Tribune. “It’s a swing district.” Kline has endorsed businesswoman Darlene Miller.
Democrats see this seat as a top pick-up opportunity and have delighted in comparing Lewis to Trump.
Lewis hasn’t openly embraced Trump, but he said that he will support the nominee . “However, to be clear, I am focused wholeheartedly on my own campaign,” Lewis said.
He did not directly address questions about the comparisons between him and Trump. But in a statement Friday he said his critics “will take anything out of context.”
Beruff himself resists comparisons to Trump. Instead, he sees himself as being more like Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The two-term governor of Florida has heaped praise on Beruff and some of his political advisers have gone to work for the developer’s campaign — unlike Trump, who had nearly no support from the party when he began his campaign.
Beruff also disagrees with some of Trump’s derogatory remarks towards women.
“I certainly was not raised that way,” he said. “I was raised by women.”
Contact Roarty at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Alex_Roarty.
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