Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) made headlines today with his quixotic opposition to the bipartisan stimulus package. Against the objections of his colleagues, Massie pressed heavily for a full house vote and has garnered substantial bipartisan criticism as a result. But how has Massie, a fairly unknown backbencher, gained the public eye so quickly, and what could the electoral consequences of his actions be?
A renegade Republican
Massie is a member of the Liberty Caucus, a small grouping of libertarians in the House. It is perhaps the only bipartisan ideological caucus; former Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), was a member, and it is currently chaired by Justin Amash (I-Michigan).
Owing to his staunchly libertarian views, Massie has been a thorn in the side of Republican leadership for years. Like Senator Rand Paul, a fellow Kentuckian, Massie is frequently the lone dissenter on bills, especially relating to foreign policy; he was the only congressman to oppose the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and the UIGHUR Act. More recently, Massie voted against making lynching a federal hate crime.
The stimulus protest
Despite these tensions, Massie has remained a Republican in relatively good standing for years. Tensions came to a head this week when Massie attempted to block the bipartisan stimulus package. Massie opposes the bill but the leadership and members of both parties broadly support it.
Massie argued the House did not have a quorum and wanted a voice vote; other representatives expressed outrage. Many representatives were concerned at a full vote due to the risk of COVID-19; several members of Congress have tested positive for the virus and the risk of it spreading is a serious concern.
The most forceful criticism came from Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who blasted Massie as a “dumbass”, and President Donald Trump, who angrily demanded that Massie be thrown out of the Republican Party. The bill passed on voice vote without a full House, leaving the entire situation to be regarded as a big waste of time. To say Massie is in a precarious position right now is an understatement.
Who is challenging Massie?
Kentucky’s 4th congressional district is a Republican stronghold that Trump won by nearly 36 percentage points. The seat is mostly based in suburban Cincinnati and Louisville and includes some of the wealthiest counties in Kentucky, like Oldham County.
Massie has clearly felt threatened in his bid for re-election for months now. Back in January, he took the unusual step of running television ads in Florida, Trump’s new home state. Massie targeted these ads at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in hopes of gaining an endorsement.
In the June 23rd primary, Massie faces only one challenger, Todd McMurtry. An attorney most well-known for representing the Covington kids, McMurty on paper seems like a decent candidate for the seat. He has specifically targeted Massie as being both insufficiently supportive of Trump’s policy platform. Additionally, he has been vocal in his support for both democracy in Hong Kong and the oppressed Uighur Muslims.
McMurty hopes to position himself as the more orthodox and pro-Trump Republican choice. McMurty made some negative Facebook posts about Trump in 2017, but aside from this there aren’t a lot of visible issues he would face.
On the Democratic side, two candidates have filed: nurse practitioner Alexandra Owensby and business consultant Shannon Fabert. Neither candidate poses any real threat; the last Democrat to represent the seat, Ken Lucas, left office in 2004. Democrats haven’t hit 40% in the district since 2006, when Lucas received 43% of the vote.
Is Massie finished?
Public polling isn’t available in KY-04, so there isn’t a clear picture as to the state of the race. The fact Massie was running ads in another state indicates there might be some concern from his camp about his chances, and his recent actions will only amplify this.
So far in his congressional career, Thomas Massie hasn’t ever faced a serious primary challenge. His consistently high margins of victory suggest that his constituents might not be upset with how he votes, and it remains to be seen if there’s a real market for a primary challenge. However, with the looming threat of an endorsement from Trump, it’s unclear if Massie’s days in Congress are numbered.