Former President Donald Trump kicked off his rally in Arizona on Saturday night by reciting what has become a litany of claims about the 2020 election.
“The fake news and the lamestream media … they refused to talk about it,” Trump said of his election claims. “They say, ‘well it is unsubstantiated and the big lie. ‘The big lie.’ The big lie is a lot of bulls**t. That’s what it is.”
Whenever speaking in public, Trump never misses an opportunity to skewer the “fake media” and their unwavering faith in Joe Biden’s election victory. But some in the Republican Party wish Trump would stop hanging on to the past and start talking about the future. They point out that successful political parties in America rarely, if ever, win elections by replaying past contests.
But Trump can’t let go of the past. In fact, his narrative about how the 2020 election was “stolen” from him has become a part of his political identity. And he’s going to need the resentment and anger the 2020 election generates in millions of Republicans to win the GOP nomination in 2024.
It’s significant that Trump chose Arizona to kick off his campaign to help the GOP take over the House and Senate. Arizona was ground zero for the “Stop the Steal” movement after Trump was edged out by Biden in 2020 by 10,000 votes. A bizarre and ultimately fruitless effort to uncover fraud in Arizona proved a waste of time. Biden was still declared the winner.
“We can’t let them get away with it,” Mr. Trump said. Then, he added, referring to Ms. Lake and her rejection of the 2020 results: “I think it’s one of the reasons she’s doing so well.”
But as popular as the former president remains with the core of the G.O.P.’s base, his involvement in races from Arizona to Pennsylvania — and his inability to let go of his loss to Mr. Biden — has veteran Republicans in Washington and beyond concerned. They worry that Mr. Trump is imperiling their chances in what should be a highly advantageous political climate, with Democrats deeply divided over their policy agenda and Americans taking a generally pessimistic view of Mr. Biden’s leadership a year into his presidency.
Trump is violating one of the primal rules of politics; never interrupt your enemies when they are in the process of self-destructing. By constantly harping on the 2020 results, Trump is distracting attention from Biden’s incompetency and the Democrat’s divisions and stirring up controversy when unity would be preferable.
Those worries are particularly acute in Arizona, where the far-right, Trump-endorsed candidates could prove too extreme in a state that moved Democratic in the last election as voters came out in large numbers to oppose Mr. Trump. The myth of widespread voter fraud is animating Arizona campaigns in several races, alarming Republicans who argue that indulging the former president’s misrepresentations and falsehoods about 2020 is jeopardizing the party’s long-term competitiveness.
That’s probably overstating the case. As 2022 will show, Arizona and Georgia — two states Democrats claim are moving into the blue column — will return to being reliably red states.
That is unless candidates who are unelectable end up winning in the primary.
For Republicans who are concerned about Mr. Trump’s influence on candidates they believe are unelectable, the basic math of such crowded primaries is difficult to stomach. A winner could prevail with just a third of the total vote — which makes it more than likely a far-right candidate who is unpalatable to the broader electorate can win the nomination largely on Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
There is little doubt that, in red states that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020, the former president’s constant replaying of the election won’t matter or could even help him, and his endorsements will carry plenty of weight.
Elsewhere, the political landscape is less certain. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Trump’s recitation of the sins committed against him in the 2020 election will play very well in GOP enclaves.