Former President Donald Trump is stepping up his election-year efforts to dominate the Republican Party with a Saturday rally in Arizona where he plans to castigate anyone who dares question his lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen , likely including the state’s GOP governor. , Doug Ducey.
But 2,000 miles east of Washington, there are small signs that some Republicans are getting tired of the charade. Mike Rounds, the usually lowly senator from South Dakota, was perhaps the most daring in acknowledging the reality that the election was in fact fair. Instead of being shunned, he was supported by his GOP colleagues, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Rounds later said the party needed to get “stronger” to tell voters the truth about the 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, Washington’s top Republicans have engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort to encourage Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of Trump’s most vocal antagonists in the party, to run for a Senate seat. And on Saturday, Glenn Youngkin will become the first Republican since 2010 to be sworn in as governor of Virginia after leading a campaign that kept Trump at bay.
Less than two months before the start of the 2022 primary season, Trump remains the most popular figure among voters who will decide which Republicans qualify for the fall general election. But recent momentum brings new clarity to the debate that will likely animate the GOP all year: to what extent GOP candidates should align themselves with Trump and his election lie.
“I was very encouraged by the response from a number of different senators in support of Sen. Rounds,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was a rare Republican urging the party to drop out. Trump and his electoral obsession.
There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims that the election was stolen. Election officials and his own attorney general rejected the idea. Trump’s arguments have also been flatly rejected by courts, including judges appointed by the former president.
Yet dissent from Trump’s election within the GOP remains rare. From Ohio to Georgia and Arizona, candidates for Senate, governor and attorney general have fully embraced Trump’s lies as they attempt to win his approval, deflect his fury or win his base. .
In the short term, such positioning can help Republican candidates gain a foothold in often crowded primary fields. But there are fears that this could hurt the party in the fall, especially among suburban voters who have become increasingly decisive in recent campaigns. The further to the right Republicans now go, the easier it could become for their Democratic rivals to cast them as extremes in a general election.
And every time the candidates pass looking back, it’s not time spent attacking President Joe Biden, who is seen as particularly vulnerable amid rising inflation and coronavirus cases.
“It’s one of those issues that’s basically popular in a primary and unpopular in a general,” said Chris DeRose, a Republican attorney and former clerk of the superior court for Maricopa County in Arizona.
He said the candidates, who often privately acknowledge the election was fair, were clearly courting the former president by expressing skepticism about the 2020 election.
“Donald Trump is obviously the most sought-after endorsement among Republican candidates,” he said. “It can make all the difference in a Republican primary.”
John Shimkus, a Republican and former congressman from Illinois, said it’s easy for “armchair quarterbacks” who aren’t on the ballot to judge candidates doing what they can to win their primaries.
“All the races are going to be contested by Trump and featured on Fox. So these candidates have to be very, very careful. They have to win the primary to win the general,” he said.
The risk, however, is clear in the Arizona Senate race. In a year favoring Republicans, the state should be a relatively workable recovery and some party members are keen for Ducey to enter the race against Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. But Trump’s repeated attacks on Ducey, who has refused to support campaign plots, could make it difficult for him to win a GOP primary.
Prior to his trip, Trump released a statement that he would never endorse Ducey.
Whichever Republican emerges ahead in Arizona and other critical races will have to convince voters they should participate in an electoral system that Trump has spent years calling rigged.
Many Republicans still blame Trump for the party’s loss of Georgia’s two Senate elections in 2021, arguing that he depressed turnout by insisting the election would be rigged, denying them control of the Senate. (Trump has argued that further investigation is the only way to inspire confidence in future elections.)
“Trump still has that outsized voice and influence and too many candidates fear his wrath,” said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and Trump critic. “We know that Donald Trump will use his megaphone to condemn those who don’t buy into his lies and his false narrative about the 2020 election. So these candidates are deadlocked: if they tell the truth, they run the risk losing their primaries and incurring the wrath of Trump, and if they acquiesce and accept this non-issue, they run the risk of alienating a lot of voters.”
Still, DeRose said he’s not worried the issue will drive down turnout, despite what happened in Georgia.
“The Republican base is pretty enthusiastic,” he said, predicting turnout tied with 2010, when Republicans made historic gains in the House. With inflation soaring, continued criticism of Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, he said, “Things are not going well in this country and I think you’re going to see this huge blowback.”
Others disagreed. Barbara Comstock, a Trump critic and former GOP congresswoman from Virginia, warned that Republicans risk nominating fringe candidates who will continue to lose overall.
“Republicans feel like they’re going to win no matter who’s on the ticket. And I disagree with that thesis,” she said, pointing to Ohio, where the candidates in the Senate have desperately tried to outdo each other. “I think you’re really taking a chance blowing reliable runs.”
Nonetheless, Trump is expected to continue hammering the issue on Saturday in Florence, Ariz., a Republican stronghold about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix. It’s the first of what aides say will be a faster pace of events for Trump in the coming months. Trump on Friday announced another rally later in January in Texas, where the March 1 primary officially kicks off the midterm campaign.
Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Pierre, South Dakota, contributed to this report
The Independent Gt