It would be easy, to dismiss Nehlen’s challenge to Ryan, who is popular among Republicans inside and outside of Wisconsin and has a large campaign warchest. A poll last month by Marquette University Law School showed him with more than an 80 percent approval rating among Wisconsin Republicans.
But less than two years ago, Eric Cantor, then the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, was also considered a rising Republican star. He suffered a shock defeat in the 2014 congressional elections in Virginia to an obscure conservative college professor, David Brat. Cantor, too, had looked unbeatable.
“That race is what reinforced in my mind this is possible,” Nehlen said in an interview.
Trump has frequently criticized Ryan for the $1.1 billion budget deal struck with Democratic President Barack Obama last December. And Ryan’s support of trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and comprehensive immigration reform is squarely at odds with Trump’s positions.
Nehlen said those two issues motivated him to mount his challenge to Ryan, although he stopped short of saying he embraced Trump’s candidacy.
Rubens, who is challenging Ayotte in New Hampshire, isn’t as restrained. ”I admire his independence,” Rubens told Reuters.
Rubens, like Trump, calls for a fence along the southern border and for doing away with so-called “birthright citizenship,” a policy that grants anyone born on U.S. soil a citizen.
Ayotte, a first-term senator, was praised by conservatives when she ran in 2010 and was endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at the height of Palin’s popularity. But she earned their wrath when she backed immigration reform. She also frustrated moderates by voting against a bill that would block suspected terrorists from buying guns.
Ayotte, Gonzales said, “is an example of someone who can’t come out guns blazing against Donald Trump. She needs every Republican possible in the state.”
In Arizona, Ward is challenging McCain, the moderate who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, in a state where rancor over immigration issues runs high. Ward has said she supports Trump’s claim that Mexico was sending criminals to the United States. Mexico has ridiculed the allegation.
Ward has an opportunity. A poll released last month by the firm Public Policy Polling showed McCain with a 33 percent approval rating among Republicans in Arizona.