Former President Trump’s continued (but false) insistence that fraud is affecting elections in the United States has Republican consultants deeply concerned — not because they worry that it’s true (it’s not), but because his words might influence his Republican base of supporters to not vote at all in the 2022 midterms.
Trump has long-maintained that his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election was due to fraud, a lie that he and his allies have never provided any evidence for. Trump is continuing to push what many have dubbed “the big lie” even further, suggesting that the results of recent elections, such as the failed GOP attempt to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, were also “rigged” — and future races will be as well.
Last week, when discussing the California recall election, Trump insisted, without providing any evidence, that the race was “rigged” by Democrats. On Tuesday, he also suggested that upcoming races in 2022 and 2024 would be fraudulent, again without any kind of evidence to back up his claim.
“You go to these elections that are coming up in ’22 and ’24 — we’re not going to have a country left,” Trump said in an interview with Newsmax. “The [2020 presidential] election was rigged, and we’re not going to have a country left in three years, I’ll tell you that.”
Those kinds of words could do serious harm for the GOP, party insiders say.
“What we see is ultimately Republicans led by Trump, very willing to suppress their own vote by telling people the election could be stolen and therefore they may not even have to take part in it,” former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said to The Hill. “That cost us the United States Senate and that’s something folks in the Senate are very mindful of.”
Some evidence suggests that such rhetoric from Trump may have influenced a small number of eligible Republican voters to stay home in the Senate runoffs held in Georgia in January. Polling in December of 2020 found that, of the respondents who said they weren’t going to vote, close to 1 in 5 (18 percent) said it was because they felt “the voting process is rigged” or that they were “intentionally boycotting the runoff” due to fraud they (wrongly) perceived to have occurred in the presidential election.
The proportion of nonvoters who chose to stay away from voting booths may have had an impact on the final outcomes of the runoff races, as Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) defeated former Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) by just 1.2 percent, and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) ousted Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) by 2 percent of the vote.
Tight races in the 2022 midterms could be affected by beliefs in the “big lie” too. Voters may be dissuaded from voting for candidates who back the idea — or, as Republican strategists worry, GOP voters may decide not to take part in a process they falsely believe is rigged and won’t matter anyway.
The “big lie” is still a powerful motivator for primary candidates, Republican donor Dan Eberhart noted. “If the only race that counts is the primary, then amping up the election-was-stolen rhetoric may help,” Eberhart said. “But if we’re talking about a candidate who has to go on and win a competitive general election, they are going to have a hard time attracting more centrist voters.”
Republicans are also currently underwater in the polls when it comes to what voters’ preferences are in next year’s elections. A Morning Consult poll conducted from September 10-13 found that 43 percent of registered voters in the U.S. would prefer to vote for a Democratic candidate on a generic congressional ballot, while only 39 percent said they would back a Republican candidate.
While a sizable number of participants in the poll were undecided on who they would support, the poll indicates that Democrats may be poised to do the unthinkable — thwart historical trends by doing well in congressional races two years after a member of their own party becomes president. With even the slightest margin of Trump’s base of voters possibly deciding not to vote next year, the Democrats’ chances to retain control of Congress increase ever-so-slightly more.