There’s one person in the world who thought Russia attacking Ukraine was a good idea. Unfortunately for all of us, he happened to be the one person in the world in a position to test that theory.
Similarly, there’s one person in the United States who thinks it’d be smart for the GOP to remind swing voters that the party’s led by a sore-loser conspiracy theorist when those voters might otherwise be primed to vote Republican.
And here again, it’s our misfortune that that person happens to have a de facto veto over everyone who disagrees with him.
Varney can barely believe it when Trump claims the 2022 and 2024 elections should mainly be about how he was “cheated” in 2020 pic.twitter.com/P2YTgvrymu
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 21, 2022
Watching that clip calls to mind the debate last week between Philip Klein and Charles Cooke over whether it’d be better for the party for Trump to run again in 2024 and lose in the primary or whether it’d be better for him not to run. Clearly it’s better if he doesn’t run, I think, as that’s the only scenario in which the GOP emerges united behind its eventual nominee. If he runs and gets beat, his tissue-paper ego will require him to believe that the polls were rigged against him again. He’ll never endorse the winner. The most hardcore Trumpers won’t turn out in the fall.
But election trutherism will be a live issue either way, as this clip reminds us. It’ll be more of an issue if Trump himself is a candidate since he’ll be out on the trail every day yammering about it. But even if he opts not to run, the “logic” of his position is sound and even inescapable on its own terms. Namely, if you believe that the last election was rigged — and few GOP candidates in 2024 will be willing to say definitively that it wasn’t — then top priority for the Republican Party should be exposing the mechanisms of that cheating so that Democrats can’t do it again, right?
What’s the point of a Republican running for president in 2024 if those wily liberals can simply tweak the vote totals on Election Day to guarantee another victory?
In a Trump-less 2024 field, every GOP candidate asked about “stop the steal” will respond with a dodge to the effect of “2020 is the past, I’m focused on the future.” Trump’s point, rightly, is that “stop the steal” *is* the future for anyone who professes to believe that the election might have been stolen in 2020. There’s no logically coherent in-between position. If you think there’s a chance that the GOP nominee rightly won two years ago but was defrauded out of a second term, there should be no cause more urgent than uncovering that corruption and making sure that it can’t happen again.
Whereas if you don’t think there’s a chance that Democrats cheated, you should say that forthrightly. Like this guy:
Chris Christie in New Hampshire this morning: Trump “is dead wrong about the election. There is no evidence that the election was stolen. None. Not even stolen in one state, let alone the six states he would have needed to reverse the result of the election.”
— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) March 21, 2022
“2020 is the past, I’m focused on the future” is just code for “The election wasn’t stolen but I’m afraid to offend Trump and his most conspiratorial fans by admitting that.” I think most Trump fans would let, say, Ron DeSantis slide if he were the GOP nominee and took that position in order to deflect questions about “stop the steal.” Republican voters want to win in 2024, after all, and they’re going to cut their nominee lots of slack on maneuvering towards that end.
But would Trump?
Unlike his voters, he doesn’t care if the GOP wins. In fact, he might fear the prospect of a new Republican nominee routing the Democrats in a national election. If DeSantis pulled, say, 52 percent of the popular vote against Biden in 2024, it would explode the theory that only Democratic chicanery can explain why Trump has never won as much as 47 percent of the vote. (The last Republican nominee to cross that threshold was … Mitt Romney, who did it against an incumbent president.) A victory by DeSantis would affirm what everyone except the hardcore MAGA base already believes, that Trump is a weaker candidate than most other people whom the GOP might plausibly nominate. And Trump would find that intolerable.
So he’ll need something from the nominee to let him save face. And the thing he’s going to need is agreement that surely Trump couldn’t have lost a national popularity contest fair and square to Joe Biden of all people. The question is what happens if the nominee refuses to give that to him and sticks to the “I’m focused on the future” line. Does Trump refuse to endorse him? Does he accuse the nominee of being “weak” and refusing to “fight”? He’ll end up damaging his successor one way or another. The question is how, and how much.