I am already thinking about the 2022 election.
Legislative redistricting, the announced candidacies of Republican Representatives David McKinley and Alex Mooney in the new 2nd district, the heated Governor’s race in neighboring Virginia are all reminders of the near constant state of campaigning.
And then there is Donald Trump, and his most ardent supporters. They have one foot in the next election, while the other is still firmly planted in the last one.
I watched portions of a Trump rally in Iowa two weeks ago in support of Senator Charles Grassley. The former president spent about half of his speaking time repeating falsehoods and long discredited allegations about how the 2020 election was stolen.
The Wall Street Journal published a letter from Trump this week where he detailed what he said were a “few examples” of how “the election was rigged” in Pennsylvania. The letter included claims the Wall Street Journal’s own reporters have debunked.
Trump’s airing of grievances seems to energize his supporters, which ensures that he will continue to make the claims, even though they are demonstrably false. With Trump as the titular head of the Republican Party, and with the popularity to match, Republican candidates have an important choice to make:
Do they help perpetuate “the big lie” whether they believe it or not because they need Trump and his supporters? Do they denounce the falsity and risk the wrath of Trump backers? Do they try to thread the needle—Biden won the election, but Trump is raising legitimate claims about election security?
The problem with endorsing the lie is two-fold: It creates doubts about the security of elections, which may discourage voters from participating, and it sends a message of pessimism, not optimism. As long-time Wall Street Journal political reporter Gerald Seib wrote, “It is an article of faith in political life that election campaigns—at least the successful ones—are about the future, not about the past.”
Joe Biden won the last election because many voters were tired of all things Trump. Is there any reason to believe those same voters will be interested in relitigating the 2020 election?
But politics has a pack mentality. How many are willing to break from the mainstream? Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney split with her party on Trump, and she has had hell to pay. The first job of a political candidate is to get elected and for Republicans, running against Trump guarantees a backlash and a primary challenger.
West Virginia is still strong Trump country, and many of those Republicans remain angry about the election. A MetroNews West Virginia Poll released last month showed that only 21 percent of Republicans believe the election was legitimate. Sixty-seven percent say it was not.
I received a text during my radio show just yesterday from a listener who described Joe Biden as an “illegitimate” president. I know that individual is not alone and there is no convincing these folks otherwise. Trump is the only one who could cool those fires, but instead he is fanning them.
Trump’s post-election tour is a one-act play of self-indulgence and grievance. So far, the theaters are still full of adoring fans and fawning politicians who are eager to be anointed by the former President. Trump will continue the act until the crowds begin to fade.
That means it is up to Republicans and conservatives to close the curtain on the 2020 election and start thinking about the future.