Former President Trump’s desperate efforts to cast doubt on the result of the 2020 election are having detrimental effects on his party, according even to some former allies.
Trump suffered an embarrassment on Friday when the so-called audit of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County, backed by supporters of the former president, in effect affirmed that the results were legitimate.
In fact, the audit — carried out by the Cyber Ninjas group — indicated that President Biden’s margin of victory in the state’s most populous county was slightly wider than first recorded.
Trump, perhaps cognizant that he had just suffered yet another blow, complained via a stream of furious emailed statements that the media were mischaracterizing the report. During one 10-minute period, three Trump statements landed in reporters’ inboxes.
“They are so dishonest but Patriots know the truth!” Trump said in one, before going on to demand that Arizona decertify its results.
There is no chance of that happening. But the former president’s influence on the GOP remains enormous nonetheless. And, when it comes to his false claims of election fraud, some in the party remain willing to do his bidding.
Earlier this week, the Texas secretary of state’s office announced an investigation pertaining to votes cast in four of the state’s largest counties. The decision came less than nine hours after Trump had demanded Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) back just such a probe.
Abbott is considered a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, especially if Trump does not run.
Trump-inspired investigations are also underway in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Yet some former allies of the president are insistent it is time to move on.
Dan Eberhart, a businessman and Republican donor who gave $100,000 to pro-Trump causes during the 2020 campaign, complained that “questioning the integrity of elections is a sure way to depress turnout. We’ve seen how that works out.”
Eberhart was alluding to the run-off elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia, held this January.
As Trump complained that the general election the previous November had been rigged, Democrats won both the run-off races in a traditionally Republican-leaning state. The victories for Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock meant that Republicans lost control of the Senate.
“There is an idea that they can challenge enough of the 2020 results that somehow they can prove that Trump actually won,” Eberhart added. “We can’t keep looking backward. We have to focus on 2024.”
Other erstwhile Trump supporters feel the same way.
“People — at least independents and some Republicans — do not believe that any irregularities were material to the outcome” last year, said Brad Blakeman, a former member of President George W. Bush’s administration who was supportive of Trump throughout his four years in office.
“We already know in the polling that this is not a very popular issue as it stands now,” Blakeman added. “And the more time goes by, the more unpopular it will become — because people will think, ‘Well if there was something that glaring wrong, why did it take so long to uncover?’”
Blakeman argued that it was time for the GOP to try to take Trump-like policies forward, but with a different standard-bearer — one without the former president’s considerable negatives. Trump, he said, “should pass the torch.”
The problem is, Trump shows no willingness to do so. Nor do his party’s grassroots supporters want him to.
In many ways, his grip on the party remains firm.
Last week Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment, announced he would retire rather than face a tough reelection battle.
Other Trump foes, notably Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) are guaranteed to have hard primary fights too. And Trump’s record of endorsing candidates, at least at the primary level, is strong.
Barry Bennett, a senior adviser on Trump’s first campaign, said the former president’s endorsement carried enormous advantages for candidates.
Bennett also argued that some of the hand-wringing about the election probes was overdone, asserting that the efforts were likely “net neutral” in their political impact.
And he said that Trump’s style — relentlessly attacking Biden and other Democrats, often in hyperbolic terms — remained the “holy grail” for Republicans seeking popularity and prominence within the conservative movement.
Democrats, meanwhile, express satisfaction bordering on glee that Trump remains such a central figure. They point to his mediocre poll ratings and believe his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is especially toxic.
More recently, they note how California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) handily beat back a recall effort by casting the Republican who was most likely to replace him, talk show host Larry Elder, as a proxy for Trump.
The former president “is a one-man suicide squad for the Republican Party,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “He doesn’t really care how many people he takes down with him. He is only interested in himself.”
Trump’s former allies don’t go that far.
But they have huge questions about what happens to a party in which questioning the integrity of elections becomes a prerequisite for would-be candidates.
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“It is a fact that Republican candidates have to talk about election integrity if they want to survive a primary,” said Eberhart, the GOP donor. “It’s just where we are right now as a party. But we’re setting up a lot of candidates to walk into a voter buzzsaw in the general.”