The big lessons from this year's House GOP primaries: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, national political reporter Bridget Bowman breaks down how Trump's influence has charted the course of this year's down-ballot GOP primaries. Plus, campaign embed Nnamdi Egwuonwu reports on the former president's efforts to recruit rappers as surrogates on the trail.

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Two truths and a lie: Lessons from House GOP primaries so far

By Bridget Bowman

It’s still not clear whether House Freedom Caucus chairman Bob Good has lost his GOP primary in Virginia, with mail-in and provisional ballots still to be counted and a potential recount looming.

Still, the extremely tight margin underscores two truths and one lie about this year’s House Republican primaries. The truths? It’s really, really hard to beat an incumbent. And it really, really helps to have Trump on your side.

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The lie? That Trump’s endorsement is the end-all, be-all in a GOP primary. Good only trails state Sen. John McGuire by a few hundred votes, an eyebrow-raising result for those who thought Trump’s seal of approval would help McGuire sail to victory.

But the fact that Good is so close to becoming the first member of Congress to lose to a primary challenger this cycle tells you that the former president remains a dominant force in GOP contests.

Several other Republican incumbents have navigated tricky primaries over the past few weeks with a hand from Trump. On Tuesday, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma easily avoided a runoff and defeated a wealthy challenger who had spent millions on the race. Cole told me last week that Trump’s endorsement had been “enormously helpful.”

Trump’s support also helped two South Carolina Republicans — Reps. Nancy Mace and William Timmons — win bitter primary battles earlier this month.

While many insurgent primary challengers have attempted to align themselves with the MAGA movement, the vast majority of Trump’s nearly 170 House endorsements this cycle — around 85% — have gone to incumbents, much to the delight of party leadership. And most of those lawmakers aren’t facing competitive primaries.

Trump has so far only backed two primary challengers against sitting members: McGuire and Jerrod Sessler, a Navy veteran taking on GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, one of two remaining House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

That gets us back to the first truth: Incumbents are tough to beat, in part because they have built-in advantages in name ID, fundraising and a ground game. Newhouse, helped by his state’s top-two primary system, defeated a Trump-backed primary challenger in 2022. We’ll find out Aug. 6 whether Newhouse will be able to do it again.

Trump courts rappers as campaign surrogates to win more voters of color

By Nnamdi Egwuonwu

At Donald Trump’s Black voter outreach event at a Detroit church last weekend, a pastor and several prominent Black Republicans joined the former president onstage. So did another unlikelier figure: rapper Casada Sorrell, better known as Sada Baby.

Most Republican voters may not be familiar with Sada Baby, but there’s a good chance their kids are. In 2020, he went viral with his single “Whole Lotta Choppas,” a pandemic mainstay on TikTok that was among the first viral records on the app.

Years later, he sat onstage inches from Trump and said, “He might be the first person to make me vote,” fueled in part by the mere fact that Trump’s team reached out to him.

“Him reaching out showed me, like, some type of effort that another candidate hadn’t shown ever,” Sorrell said, noting that Trump could have pursued a bigger Detroit name like rapper Eminem (a notorious critic of him). “I’m trying to act like it doesn’t mean too much, but it means a lot.”

And it’s not a one-off move. As Trump works to court young voters of color, one strategy his campaign has pursued is to turn rap stars into surrogates, pursuing not only nationally renowned names but also smaller acts prominent in their local communities.

The campaign hopes the outreach will create a permission structure for undecided voters in communities with little history of supporting Republicans to at least consider Trump’s message. And Trump is embracing rappers — and they are embracing him — as polling data suggests this election may feature a generational split among Black voters, with younger members of the community showing much more openness to the former president.

Icewear Vezzo, another Detroit-based rapper who was at Trump’s event in Michigan, encouraged his fans to consider Trump after receiving backlash for posing with him after the roundtable discussion.

“Why can’t we respectfully disagree no more,” Vezzo said in a post to his 1 million Instagram followers. “You know what’s built great companies and great civilizations? They all went and got a team of people who think differently from them.”

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That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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