Witness what’s happening right now in Oklahoma — where Sen. James Lankford is facing a rebellion within his party because, well, he refused to cast a vote objecting to the Electoral College results in Pennsylvania and Arizona following the riot at the US Capitol.
According to the Tulsa World, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman John Bennett is not only supporting Lankford’s primary opponent — Jackson Lahmeyer — but was also in attendance at a rally organized by Lahmeyer late last month that featured former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn as well as Mark McCloskey, the pistol-packing Missouri man who became famous for “protecting” his home during a peaceful protest. Several people who were part of the January 6 insurrection were also featured at the rally.
Bennett’s lack of neutrality in the primary didn’t sit well with Lankford. “It’s more unheard of than it is rare,” he told the World. “I’d say it’s highly unusual for a state party chair in any state in America to come out and say, ‘I’m not going to at least be neutral.'”
Which is true! There’s no law that bans a state party chairman from endorsing a candidate in a primary, it’s just very rarely done — especially by someone as new to the job as Bennett. Bennett, a former state legislator, was elected to the post in April. Prior to winning the job, Bennett spent nearly a decade in the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, a tenure defined by his controversial comments about Islam and unapologetic conservative views on guns and abortion. (Bennett once called Islam “a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.”)
Bennett appears to have found common cause with Lahmeyer, who is centering his challenge to Lankford on the debunked idea that the 2020 election was somehow fraudulent and that Trump actually won.
“(Election integrity) is the number one issue that faces this country,” Lahmeyer told the Norman Transcript late last month. “Election integrity is monumental. We have to have confidence, whether we win or whether we lose — we win some battles, we will lose some battles, that’s how politics goes — but you have to have confidence that the election was fair and the election was legal.”
The Big Lie, as the 2020 election rejection of Trump and his allies has come to be known, appears to be the only issue on which Lahmeyer is running. That Lankford didn’t join the eight other Republican senators who objected to the Electoral College vote in either Pennsylvania or Arizona appears to be enough of a reason for Lahmeyer (and Bennett).
Which is remarkable. Particularly when you consider that Lankford, who was first elected to the Senate in a 2014 special election, has compiled one of the most conservative voting records in the chamber. In 2020, Lankford scored a 95% rating by the American Conservative Union, making him the 2nd most conservative senator in Washington. He has a 98% rating so far in this Congress from Heritage Action, another major conservative group in Washington. Even when it comes to Trump loyalty — which is obviously a very different thing than adherence to conservative principles — Lankford scores well. He voted in line with Trump 86.8% of the time, according to data from 538. That’s higher than people like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (86.7%), Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (86%) and Florida Sen. Rick Scott (84.1%).
What’s abundantly clear here is that Lankford’s only problem — at least in the eyes of some within the Oklahoma GOP (including the party chair!) — is that he refused to object to the certification of Electoral College votes in an election in which there is zero evidence of any sort of widespread voter fraud. Because Lankford wouldn’t go along with Trump’s wild conspiracy theory, he is insufficiently loyal to the former president and deserves to be punished.
Despite all of this Sturm und Drang, Lankford is still very likely to win the Republican nomination next year. The incumbent had more than $1 million in the bank as of March 31, dwarfing Lahmeyer’s $33,000.
That we are even talking about Lankford’s political prospects in a state as ruby red as Oklahoma (and considering his strongly conservative voting record) speaks to the power of the Big Lie — and to the obeisance of today’s Republican Party to Trump over any conservative principle.