It's Complicated
Newsweek|January 07 - 14, 2022
Trump’s GOP support is strong. But mainstream Republicans worry HIS FOCUS ON “THE STEAL” could hurt the party in the midterms—and 2024
BILL POWELL

A SELF-EFFACING FORMER MORTGAGE BROKER, MIKE Detmer has never thought of himself as a particularly polarizing figure. But that changed the moment Donald Trump endorsed him for the Michigan state senate in a race few outside of the district were paying attention to until the former president weighed in.

Detmer, who previously mounted an unsuccessful run in the 2020 Republican primary for the U.S. congressional seat representing southern Michigan’s 8th District, is now challenging Lana Theis, an incumbent Republican state senator representing District 22 in the Detroit exurbs. Theis easily won her race in 2018 and had been considered a relatively safe bet for reelection in the solidly red district until Trump’s backing of her competitor provided a jolt of fundraising to his campaign. Now, some state GOP officials worry, Trump’s intervention in the race will force Theis to spend more resources to fend off the primary challenge and put a relatively safe seat in jeopardy. State Democrats are suddenly energized, believing that an ugly primary fight on the Republican side could open the door for an upset in November.

“Donald Trump may help our dreams come true in Michigan 22,” says Abby Rubley, communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party.

Therein lies the challenge for the GOP in 2022— and beyond. As the former and possibly future president of the country, Trump holds more power and sway than anyone else in the party; who he backs in state races makes a big difference in fundraising and, ultimately, votes. Increasingly, though, Trump seems to be choosing candidates based on whether they support his claims, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him—even if they’re not the Republicans with the strongest chance of winning.

Interviews with GOP politicians, staffers, consultants and operatives indicate many are worried that this obsession with the 2020 results, combined with Trump’s brash style and desire to seek political vengeance against those whom he believes wronged him, could upset what polling otherwise indicates should be a historic victory for the GOP in the midterms and a good shot at retaking the White House two years later.

“We’ve got everything going for us, in 2022 and 2024,” one GOP senator who is friendly with Trump tells Newsweek. “[But] not many voters are interested in relitigating the 2020 election. I’ve told the president this, I know others have told him, and it doesn’t seem to have any effect. It’s frustrating, for sure

.”

Looking Back, Not Ahead

THE ENDORSEMENT OF A CANDIDATE IN A RELATIVELY obscure race for a state senate seat in Michigan is just one example of Trump getting involved in a 2022 race because he wants to relitigate the 2020 presidential election. And there’s little question in anyone’s mind that that is the reason the former president got involved in the District 22 race: Theis, Detmer’s opponent, served on a committee that looked into, and ultimately dismissed, allegations of voter fraud in Michigan’s presidential election last year.

As the GOP’s dominant figure with a rock-solid base of support, party insiders, though, are looking to Trump to help Republicans secure the future, not rewrite the past. Most Republicans believe their party’s presidential nomination in 2024 is Trump’s should he want it, and polls indicate that the majority of GOP voters want him to run again. Late this past summer, Trump’s political action committee began hiring staff in Iowa—significant, of course, because it’s where the first presidential nominating contest is held every four years—and the former president has strongly hinted that he’ll run again.

Trump’s message, and the party’s, should be a simple and straightforward “help is on the way,” says Iowa GOP strategist Terry Nelson. Many Republicans believe Trump could successfully contrast his presidency with Biden’s first year and ask, simply, “Miss me yet?”

Instead, Trump seems hyper-focused on replaying his claims of election fraud on whatever public stage he can find—including those meant to promote his party’s 2022 candidates. And though it’s true that polls indicate a majority of GOP voters share Trump’s view that the election was stolen, it’s not an issue many believe will motivate voters next year, or in 2024.

Many Democrats, on the other hand, view Trump’s eye on the rearview mirror as the gift that keeps on giving. If he wants to keep the focus on 2020, they are more than happy to oblige. Congressional Democrats are leading the hearings into the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, and hope to demonstrate that Trump’s post-election rhetoric helped spur the so-called “insurrection.” They also love the fact that he is stirring up trouble for many establishment Republican candidates, by endorsing rivals who are more “MAGA-friendly.”

In Arizona, for example, Trump has endorsed political neophyte Kari Lake—a former local news anchorwoman—in her bid to succeed incumbent Governor Doug Ducey, who Trump refers to as a“RINO” (Republican in name only). Lake is the only candidate seeking the office who has said flatly that she thinks Trump won the state of Arizona in the 2020 election, echoing Trump’s own claim, and is thus another example of an endorsement rooted in perpetuating the stolen election fallacy.

Arizona is a hotly competitive purple state. Both of its U.S. Senate seats flipped blue in recent years, and Biden won a narrow victory there, a first for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century. Now Trump’s intervention in Arizona is giving Republican establishment operatives heartburn. Many of them are backing former Representative Matt Salmon in the crowded primary, a former congressman who narrowly lost the Arizona governor’s race to Democrat Janet Napolitano in 2002.

“Not many voters are interested in RELITIGATING the 2020 election. I've told the president this; it doesn't seem to have any effect.”

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