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Moderate Republicans prepare to fend off challenges from the right: From the Politics Desk

Plus, how high voter turnout could benefit Republicans this fall and the latest developments from the Trump trial.
Brian Fitzpatrick during a press conference in the Capitol
Brian Fitzpatrick during a press conference in the Capitol on Feb. 11, 2020.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

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 spotlights the moderate House Republicans who are facing primary challenges from the right in the coming weeks. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki explains how high voter turnout could boost Donald Trump this fall.

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Pennsylvania’s primary provides an early test for GOP moderates facing threats from the right 

By Bridget Bowman

Speaker Mike Johnson isn’t the only House Republican facing threats from the right. Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania kick off the next round of intraparty battles this election cycle between GOP lawmakers and challengers who argue those lawmakers are insufficiently conservative. 

In Pennsylvania’s 1st District, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is looking to defeat anti-abortion activist Mark Houck in the GOP primary. Primary fights are nothing new for Fitzpatrick, who has fended off challengers from the right since he was elected in 2016.

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Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, has built a bipartisan brand that has helped him hold on to a seat in a competitive district in the Philadelphia suburbs that President Joe Biden carried in 2020. But this year, Fitzpatrick and allied outside groups have hit the airwaves to take on Houck, in a sign that they view him as a greater threat than Fitzpatrick has faced in the past.  

Two other moderate House Republicans — Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who also represents a district Biden won, and Tony Gonzales of Texas — will confront their primary challengers next month.

Outside groups have also engaged in these races, with the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House leadership and its nonprofit arm American Action Network boosting all three Republicans.  

In Bacon’s competitive 2nd District, the four-term congressman is facing businessman Dan Frei in the state’s May 14 primary. Frei has some grassroots support and won the Nebraska Republican Party’s endorsement in January. (The state party did not endorse any incumbents this year, the Nebraska Examiner reported).  

In the sprawling 23rd District in southwest Texas, which leans more Republican, Gonzales will face self-described “Second Amendment activist” Brandon Herrera, known for his YouTube channel, in a runoff primary election on May 28. Gonzales drew conservatives’ ire after he supported a bipartisan gun control measure following the 2022 mass school shooting in Uvalde, which is in his district. That vote earned him a censure from the state GOP.  

Even if Fitzpatrick, Bacon and Gonzalez prevail in their primaries, the early spending from their campaigns and allies is welcome news for Democrats, who would like to see these Republicans drain their campaign accounts ahead of tough fights in November. These incumbents have been elusive targets in the past for Democrats and could be tough to beat again this year — but first they have to win their primaries.  

Read more about what to watch in tonight’s Pennsylvania’s primaries here →  

Trump trial, Day 6: A witness details salacious stories and the judge bristles at gag order arguments

By Katherine Doyle

Testimony in Donald Trump’s historic hush money case resumed on Tuesday, with prosecutors urging the court to hold the former president in contempt for attacking witnesses and others, and former tabloid impresario David Pecker returning to the stand with details that linked Trump’s circle to a slew of salacious stories.

Here’s what happened on Day 6 of Trump’s trial:

Pecker returned to the stand: Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, described giving directions to implement an agreement with Trump to help his 2016 campaign. Pecker said the Enquirer “embellished” stories about some of Trump’s opponents at Michael Cohen’s request, including a piece about Sen. Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The publication had “mashed the photos” together of Lee Harvey Oswald and Cruz’s father, Pecker said, conceding that an article Trump cited repeatedly on the campaign trail was a fabrication.

Merchan reserved judgment on the gag order: An attorney for the district attorney’s office argued that Trump “seems to be angling” for incarceration by knowingly and repeatedly violating the gag order. 

Prosecutors had asked that Trump be held in contempt for attacking witnesses and others in the case, saying that they weren’t asking that he be imprisoned but want him fined for at least 10 violations. 

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said that they are “trying to comply” with the gag order. “President Trump is being very careful,” he said.

Judge Juan Merchan snapped: “You’re losing all credibility with the court.”

Read more here →

Why Republicans — not Democrats — should be hoping for high turnout this fall

By Steve Kornacki

Even though he’s up by 2 points over Joe Biden, there’s a clear cautionary note for Donald Trump in our latest NBC News poll: He’s relying on supporters who may not actually vote this November. 

Our pollsters were able to cross-check many (though not all) respondents with voter registration information. This allows them to see which respondents actually turn out to vote in elections, and how frequently they do so. And when this information was applied to the Biden-Trump race, some marked differences appeared:

As you can see, Trump does best — by far — with people who didn’t vote in either the 2022 midterm election or the 2020 presidential election. And he edges out Biden among those who voted in 2020 but skipped the midterm. It’s only with those who participated in both elections that Trump lags Biden. 

For Trump, the good news here is that he’s shown in both the 2016 and 2020 elections an ability to bring out voters who aren’t otherwise that engaged politically: They’re for Trump when he’s on the ballot, but seemingly indifferent to Republican candidates in other elections. It’s a good bet that the vast majority of these types of voters will end up turning out this fall.

And, of course, it’s true that presidential elections typically attract many people who don’t follow politics closely or who are voting for the first time. So if turnout this November approaches the record-shattering level of 2020, when nearly 160 million votes were cast, it would probably mean that most of those poll respondents who didn’t vote in either 2022 or 2020 are, in fact, turning out this time around — which would bode well for Trump.

But this is where the cautionary note for Trump comes in. When asked about their level of interest in this year’s election, 64% indicated it was very high. That’s actually the lowest level our poll has found at roughly this point of a presidential campaign since we started asking the question in 2008.

When it comes to forecasting potential turnout disparities between each party’s base, this can be a very imprecise indicator this far from November. (In fact, Trump is actually up by 2 points right now among those who say they have a very high level of interest.) But what this does underscore is the possibility that turnout will, in fact, be significantly lower this year than it was in 2020.

And to see the trouble this could pose for Trump, just consider the consistently strong Democratic performances in recent special elections — most notably the party’s 8-point victory in the race to fill former New York GOP Rep. George Santos’ Long Island-based seat in February. That margin was bigger than many expected and spoke to the intense motivation of a major segment of the Democratic base: college-educated suburbanites.

These voters have proven themselves determined to cast ballots against Trump and his party at every opportunity. In low-turnout affairs, like special elections, this fervor can be decisive. In an ultra-high turnout atmosphere, less so. So the more this November’s turnout level falls from 2020, the more influential these deeply committed voters figure to be. 

It adds up to an inversion of what previously has been the conventional wisdom: This time, it’s Trump and the Republicans who are hoping for high turnout.

🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 👮 Wray weighs in: FBI Director Christopher Wray told NBC News in an exclusive interview that the agency is working with college campuses to “stay ahead” of potential violence amid antisemitic threats and protests over the Israel-Hamas war. Read more →
  • 😨 Worries about RFK Jr.: Despite public statements that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent bid will hurt Biden, Trump in private has raised questions about how his own campaign could be affected. Read more →
  • Another hurdle cleared: The Senate voted to advance the $95 billion package that would provide aid to Ukraine and includes a provision that could lead to a nationwide ban on TikTok. The measure is expected to clear a final vote in the chamber as soon as Tuesday evening before heading to Biden’s desk. Read more →
  • ☀️ Florida, Florida, Florida: Biden delivered a speech in Florida today where he blamed the state's six-week abortion ban on Trump. Politico has a deep dive on how Democrats might not necessarily think they can win the Sunshine State, but rather want to use it as a “cautionary tale” for GOP policies. Read more →
  • 🌵 Another flip? Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake appears to have flipped — again — on the state’s near-total abortion ban, telling an Idaho news outlet that Arizona officials are "unfortunately" not going to enforce the ban. Read more →
  • ⚖️ Teens at the trial: Some New York teenagers decided not to sleep in on their day off of school for Passover, instead trekking to a Manhattan courthouse to see Trump’s hush money trial up close. Read more →

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

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