The New Republican Challenge: Donald Trump And The Midterm Elections

The United States’ 2022 midterm elections are defining history, with democracy, reproductive rights, and election integrity being just a few of the big topics that were on the ballot. Democrats kept the Senate, and while Republicans did take back the House, it was hardly as thoroughly as they had been expecting. Arizona was a key battleground state, because election deniers were running for all levels of local government.

Republican Kari Lake, who lost the state’s gubernatorial race to Democrat Katie Hobbs, campaigned on the false claims that electronic voting machines and mail-in ballots had made the 2020 presidential race fraudulent. In interviews and at rallies, Lake frequently expressed her desire to do away with early voting. “I don’t know exactly how we’ll do it,” she told Jon Karl in an interview with A.B.C. News, “but we will secure our elections, restore faith in our elections, make sure our elections are honest and transparent.”

When asked if she would accept the election results if she loses, Lake replied, “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result.” In rallies held weeks before the election, she was already telling her voters that her campaign had been successful: “Because I won doesn’t mean I’m going to now pivot and try to become a Democrat. Absolutely not.”

Republican Blake Masters also lost the senatorial race to Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, giving the Democrats the tight lead they needed to hold the senate. Like Lake, Masters made false claims throughout his campaign that the 2020 election had been stolen; “If we had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today,” he said in an interview with Fox News. Before it was scrubbed (a month before the election), C.N.N. reported that a similar call to “get serious about election integrity” was featured on his website. “The 2020 election was a rotten mess – if we had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today and America would be so much better off,” the line read.

A third Republican candidate and election denier, Mark Finchem, lost the race for Secretary of State to Democrat Adrian Fontes. Finchem made his stance on the 2020 race very clear; he has ties to QAnon and the Oath Keepers, and he made an appearance at Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally before the January 6th attack on the Capitol. If he had been in office in 2020, Finchem told his supporters in May, “we would have won. Plain and simple.” In terms of his own race, Finchem announced that he would refuse to accept anything but a win. “Ain’t gonna be no concession speech coming from this guy,” he said in a June fundraiser.

The Secretary of State has a great amount of power over election outcomes. If Finchem had won, his agenda would have included implementing extremist voting laws, banning early voting, sharply restricting mail-in ballots, and suspending the use of all electronic vote-counting machines in Arizona. He has even co-sponsored a bill that would give the state’s Republican legislature authority to overturn election results.

As in the 2020 election they all founded their campaigns around, none of these Republican candidates won. Election deniers in Arizona and across the country lost their races, including those for seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

(Republican candidates and the right-wing media in Arizona have already capitalized on technical problems with the electronic election infrastructure in Maricopa County, declaring it evidence of “voter fraud” – contradicting tech mogul Bill Gates, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors and a Republican himself. “No one is being disenfranchised,” Gates said in an interview with C.N.N. “And none of this indicates any fraud or anything of that sort. This is a technical issue.”)

Ironically, the common thread in these losses appears to be Donald Trump. Many Trump-endorsed candidates did not perform well in the midterms.

“In those particular races, we found that when Trump endorsed a candidate, it was a boost in their fundraising ability but also mobilized the opposition dramatically,” said Hans Hassell, a political researcher at Florida State University who has studied the impact of Trump’s endorsements on elections. In an interview with The Guardian, he said Trump’s effect on the results should come as no surprise. “The opponents of Trump’s endorsees actually received more money than the Trump-endorsed candidate did. Ultimately, those candidates that Trump endorsed, they did worse than non-Trump-endorsed candidates,” he said.

“Trump’s endorsements are not random. They are strategic,” Hassell explained. “He tries to endorse candidates that will boost his perceptions of influence. But on the whole, a Trump endorsement [has been] a negative … in terms of the vote shares.” In the 2018 midterms, endorsement from Donald Trump “probably lost Republicans 15 to 20 seats as a result.”

As Donald Trump’s overall popularity decreases, even as he announces his run for president in 2024, the Republican Party is facing internal crisis. The party will have to reckon with its message as a failing cult of personality if it hopes to find success in two years.


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