Republicans should be poised to win back the majority in the House of Representatives next year, and could retake the Senate as well. Given historic midterm election trends, fragile Democratic margins in both chambers and redistricting advantages for Republicans, the GOP starts out close to the finish line.
To win, Republicans will cling to former President Donald Trump, hoping he can be more a magic carpet than an albatross. Yet this last week underscored that Trump could easily blunt their competitive edge, help Democratic fundraising and turnout, and motivate other anti-Trump voters to the polls.
Amid bonkers and alarming revelations from newly published books about the 45th president, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy trucked up to Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., resort last week to show the world that Republicans are cool with all that stuff. From allegations of Trump complimenting Hitler to fears among the top ranks of the military that he would attempt a coup to discussions of removing him from office under the 25th Amendment after the Jan. 6 insurrection — McCarthy’s unsaid message was “no problem.” That same day, Trump had gone viral once again by making a statement about how he’s not into coups and if he was planning one he wouldn’t have done so with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who suspected Trump might attempt just that, overseeing the military. While McCarthy had tried and failed, during his trip to Mar-a-Lago in January, to convince Trump not to target GOP incumbents who voted to impeach him, the California Republican was once again brimming with thanks.
“I appreciate President Trump's commitment to help House Republicans defeat Democrats and Take Back the House in 2022,” McCarthy said in a statement with Trumpian capitalization.
Most GOP leaders hoping to harness Trump’s hold on their voters know next year could bring potential prosecutions of the former president and/or his family and that more tell-all books are on the way. But they have made it clear they will embrace not only the Big Lie and the whitewashing of the assault on the Capitol, but attacks on fellow Republicans and all of Trump’s present and future legal woes too.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said several months ago, after joining the ring-kissing tour of Mar-a-Lago, that Republicans couldn’t move forward without Trump. He noted that yes, the former president was “mad” at some people but that he was “ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party” and “excited about 2022.” Graham knows how little Trump likes moving on, that he doesn't think his party needs rebuilding and that excitement about elections he isn’t participating in is a stretch. But it's a better way of saying, “We’re trapped.”
Mitch McConnell, attacked by Trump on a regular basis since the minority leader declared Trump was “practically and morally and responsible” for the insurrection, has tried to stay quiet after Graham and everyone else went crawling back to Trump following his second impeachment. McConnell won’t comment on anything Trump- or campaign-related, but has indicated he will support incumbents and intervene in primaries for open seats if he sees Trump-backed candidates as a risk to the party’s chances of taking back the Senate next year.
Things are swell right now. Last week Trump called Jan. 6, when rioters injured about 140 police officers, “a lovefest.” Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip, told CNN, “That’s not what any of us here experienced. Trying to rehash and revisit and relitigate the past election is not a winning strategy for trying to get the majorities back in 2022.” When Manu Raju, the CNN reporter, asked if that meant Trump could hinder the party’s chances next year, Thune said: “I mean, he’s gonna keep saying it. There’s not anything we can do about it. But like I said, anytime you’re talking about the past, you’re not talking about the future. I think the future is where we’re gonna live.”
The past, however, is always top of mind with Trump. At his new rallies, as at his old rallies, he looks back, focusing on November of last year but not November of next year. “We won the election twice,” said Trump in Ohio in June, lying about the 2020 election. “And it’s possible that we’ll have to win it a third time.” At what was an event to endorse Max Miller (pictured), running against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez — who voted for the second impeachment — Trump barely mentioned Miller. At another rally in Florida, Trump ranted about his former CFO Allen Weisselberg being indicted. But he didn’t deny taxes went unpaid; he just questioned why such perks as cars and apartments should be taxed.
Trump summed up both rallies thusly: “Seeing the record crowds of over 45,000 people in Ohio and Florida, waiting for days, standing in the pouring rain, they come from near and far. All they want is HOPE for their Great Country again. Their arms are outstretched, they cry over the Rigged Election — and the RINOs have no idea what this movement is all about. In fact, they are perhaps our biggest problem. We will never save our Country or be great again unless Republicans get TOUGH and get SMART!”
Republicans cannot only expect that Trump will normalize alleged crimes like tax evasion at “campaign” rallies, but that he will target any Republican who disagrees with him — on anything — as RINOs out to destroy the country. Just ask retiring Sen. Richard Shelby. He has endorsed his former chief of staff, Katie Britt, who’s running for his seat, instead of Rep. Mo Brooks, Trump’s preferred candidate. Brooks urged rally-goers at the Capitol to “fight” on Jan. 6 and is being sued by a Democratic congressman for inciting the violence that day. Trump took aim at Britt, who was also head of the Business Council of Alabama, as well as Shelby. True to the tone of a sixth-grade boy, which characterized most of Trump’s tweets, his statement read: “I see that the RINO Senator from Alabama, close friend of Old Crow Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, is pushing hard to have his 'assistant' fight the great Mo Brooks for his Senate seat. She is not in any way qualified and is certainly not what our Country needs or not what Alabama wants. For Mitch McConnell to be wasting money on her campaign is absolutely outrageous."
Trump and McConnell will be butting heads in North Carolina next year too. After urging daughter-in-law Lara Trump to run for the open Senate seat in North Carolina, and she took a pass, Trump suddenly announced his endorsement of Rep. Ted Budd, which took the state GOP by surprise. Trump’s nod didn’t clear the field, however, and with former Gov. Pat McCrory in the race and holding a strong lead, establishment Republicans are sticking with him. Retiring Sen. Richard Burr called McCrory “the only one in the race that can win the general election,” and said of Trump endorsing Budd, “I can’t tell you what motivates him.” McCrory has said Trump “got bad advice in picking a Washington, D.C., insider.”
Such division and intraparty tension in the Tar Heel State is all too familiar to their fellow Republicans in Georgia, who still blame Trump for costing them two Senate seats in January. Trump has not only attacked Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and endorsed a challenger in next year's campaign to replace him, but he has repeatedly attacked Gov. Brian Kemp for not overturning the election in the Peach State last year, as Trump all but demanded. He is still searching for someone to defeat Kemp.
In Alaska, Trump has backed a candidate running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski because she voted to convict him at his second impeachment trial. The Alaska GOP, following Trump, has endorsed her rival. McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, on the other hand, are supporting the incumbent.
All three candidates Trump has endorsed (in North Carolina, Alaska and Alabama) have been outraised in their campaigns thus far. Will he help those candidates raise more money? Who knows? Will he persuade his supporters to turn out and vote next year when he isn’t on the ballot, or keep telling them elections are rigged? The only thing those candidates can count on is Trump’s single focus on his grievance and grandiosity, this year and next.
The future can be where Republicans try and live. But Trump promises to be there too.