The painful pair of losses in races for Georgia’s US Senate seats earlier this year still haunt the GOP — especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who saw the majority ripped away from him. After Trump inaccurately told voters in Georgia that the election was rigged, some election observers believe the former President discouraged Republicans from going out and voting. Now some in the GOP fear a repeat, according to multiple Republican lawmakers and aides.
“Donald Trump gave away the Senate once. It looks like he’s determined to do it again,” said one House GOP lawmaker.
At the very least, McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, would rather keep their midterm message focused on President Joe Biden, the economy and the border, even though Trump’s false voter fraud claims animate the base and many GOP candidates have made “election integrity” a cornerstone of their campaigns. Still, even of some of Trump’s most loyal supporters in Congress want to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.
“That’s history,” Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, said of the 2020 election. “And I’m a President Trump guy. But we’ve got to focus on 2022.”
“I think it does hurt our chances if it becomes the dominant topic,” said another GOP lawmaker. “If the election is about Afghanistan, inflation, the border and crime, we will retake back the House. If it’s about ‘rigged elections’ we will lose independents and suburban voters we need to win.”
Added a third Republican: “It’s not a helpful message.”
‘He remains the biggest draw in our party’
GOP leaders, however, dismissed the idea that Trump’s one-track focus on the 2020 election will hurt their midterm strategy and expressed confidence that the former President will boost voter turnout, saying he remains a popular figure in the party.
“I’m confident that Republican voters across this country are fired up to vote in the midterms,” said Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The former president, he’s a private citizen and he of course is entitled to his own opinion.”
GOP leaders, particularly in the House, are hugging Trump tightly and making clear they view him as an asset in their quest to win back power. The former President is headlining upcoming fundraising events for both the House and Senate GOP campaign arms, even as he continues to publicly attack McConnell.
“He remains the biggest draw in our party and we’re happy he’s helping our efforts to fire Nancy Pelosi,” Emmer added.
And Republicans say that behind the scenes, Trump is actively engaged in helping map out a strategy to win back the House.
“The Republican Party has made it very clear that blind loyalty to Donald Trump’s ego is the only principle they hold fast to,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, in a statement. “Yesterday was just another reminder that Trump’s toxic rhetoric looks very different when he isn’t on the ballot.”
But even as Republicans fret the idea of Trump using his megaphone to focus on the 2020 election, very few Republicans have been willing to call out his lies. They either shrug their shoulders and in some cases embrace his false claims.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, when pressed repeatedly by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, refused to say on Sunday whether he agreed with Trump that the election was stolen.