Will GOP Splits Foil the Trump Strategy?
Olga, Washington – The media keeps telling us that 70 percent of Republicans still back the bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. But for this November, keep your eye on the 20 to 30 percent of Republicans who reject the Big Lie. They’re likely to cast the deciding votes in key elections.
What makes these Liz Cheney Republicans so pivotal this fall is that 2022 is not a normal mid-term election. The media has mostly been treating this year’s contest as a rerun of the traditional red vs blue mid-term election where, by all historical norms, the in-party suffers a shellacking and loses control of Congress.
But that’s missing what’s unique about 2022. The personality cult of Donald Trump has transformed this year’s political warfare into an election that puts American democracy on the ballot. The Trump Cult, masquerading under the flag of the Republican Party, has mobilized its own slates of candidates in pursuit of its own radical, anti-democratic agenda.
The main line of attack, deploying more than 30 of Trump’s most bellicose advocates on the ballot for governor, senator, secretary of state and attorney general, is to try to capture major state offices in more than a dozen states, from Arizona and Nevada to Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and take control of the election machinery in swing states, including the power to reject and override the popular vote, so they can lock in Trump’s re-election in 2024.
The most crucial test this fall is whether the Trump camp will succeed in converting Big Lie propaganda into practical power, or whether an emerging coalition of Democrats, independents and constitutional Republicans can block enough of the Trump slates to protect the future fairness of American elections and discredit the Big Lie strategy.
The Emerging Coalition Against the Trump Cult
For months, the media has focused on tallying Trump Cult successes in Republican primaries. But heading into the general election, the narrative is changing. Democratic voters are newly energized by the Supreme Court’s decision striking down abortion rights, President Biden’s legislative gains in Congress, and the FBI’s seizure of Trump’s hidden cache of national security documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Independent voters, more numerous than either major party, are leaning against the Trump Cult. More than 60% of independents tell pollsters they think Joe Biden won fairly in 2020 and more than 60% hold Trump accountable for the January 6, 2021 attack on Congress. Trump has risked stoking their hostility this fall with his recent demand that the 2020 election be nullified and hints that he’ll pardon convicted January 6 rioters if he gets back in the White House in 2024.
Already there’s a serious independent candidate in Utah, Evan McMullin, running to unseat pro-Trump Senator Mike Lee. Democrats are backing McMullin rather than running their own candidate. Independent voters also loom large in Alaska, where Trump is out to punish and defeat Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted for conviction in his impeachment trial in 2021. Based on her history, Murkowski is expected to pull well among independents and Democrats in her race against a handpicked Trump rival, Kelly Tshibaka.
Republican Defections in Alaska and Georgia
But the most dangerous Achilles Heel for the Trump’s Cult’s strategy this year are the anti-Trump Republicans, political wild cards who just handed victory to a Democrat over pro-Trump former Governor Sarah Palin, in last month’s special congressional election in Alaska.
Under Alaska’s election law, voters rank their candidate choices 1-2-3 and if no candidate wins a solid majority, the bottom-ranked candidate is dropped out and his/her ballots go to those voters’ second choice. In Alaska’s final reallocation, 15,000 voters whose first choice was Republican businessman Mark Begich gave their second choice to Democrat Mary Peltola, giving her the vital margin of victory over Palin, who was running as a Trumpist candidate.
Those Republican defections are not a fluke. In 2020, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says, Donald Trump lost Georgia because of Republican defections. Raffensperger says Trump “came up short” in Georgia because 33,000 Georgians who voted for GOP candidates for Congress refused to vote for Trump. They left their presidential ballot blank.
The Alaska-Georgia narrative spells trouble for Trump slates if it plays out in swing states this November.
Where Could Republican Defectors Torpedo Trumpers?
In deep red states like Texas, Alabama or Arkansas, Trump-backed candidates are mostly incumbent Republicans, counting on a comfortable partisan advantage in their home states, including an activist Trump base.
In states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, where Democrats have the advantage in registered voters, strong candidates and a widespread aversion to Trumpist extremism, Democrats look well placed to beat Trumpist underdogs. Early polls show Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer well ahead of Trumpist Tudor Dixon. Polls in Pennsylvania give comfortable leads to Democrats John Fetterman running against Trumpist Mehmet Oz for an open Senate seat, and to Josh Shapiro facing Doug Mastriano for governor.
But in swing states with tight races, like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin, “Never Trumper” Republicans could play a decisive role in tipping the balance against Trumpist candidates.
That prospect haunts Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Last spring, McConnell tried to recruit mainstream Republican governors like Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Doug Ducey in Arizona and Larry Hogan in Maryland to run for the Senate. He failed and later worried out loud that “candidate quality” – apparently meaning weak and divisive Trumpist candidates – could dash Republican hopes for winning a Senate majority this year.
Arizona- A Grand Canyon Divide in the GOP
Arizona is a case in point. The rift within the state Republican Party is as wide is the Grand Canyon. Kari Lake, the combative Trumpist candidate for governor, shrilly attacks the “corrupt” 2020 election and calls abortion “the ultimate sin,” themes worked by her running mate Mark Finchem for secretary of state. But fellow Trumpist Blake Masters, running for the U.S. Senate, saw danger in the line and has tried to wipe his website clean of his past denunciations of abortion.
Arrayed against them are the state’s Republican establishment, led by Governor Ducey, former House Speaker Rusty Bower, the Republican leaders in the Phoenix area, all of whom endorsed or certified the Arizona vote for Joe Biden in 2020.
In a state where 45 percent of voters self-identify as independents, the bitter, pitched battle between Trumpist and mainstream slates in the Republican primary has left fertile cause for Republican defections in November, whether Republican votes for some Democrats or Republican leaners simply declining to vote this year.
In Georgia, too, bitter feuds between the Trump and mainstream factions in the Republican primary seem likely to stir a new round of GOP defections and could sink the bid by former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker to upset incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.
In Wisconsin, tensions between Trump extremists and regular Republicans could help incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers stave off a Trumpist challenge from Tim Michels and even undermine the re-election of ardent pro-Trump Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who faces a stiff challenge from Democratic Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes.
Si milar tensions are at play in tight senate races in Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire