Former President Trump’s insistence on spreading unfounded claims of election fraud is threatening to hurt the Republican Party in the upcoming 2021 and 2022 elections.
The growing concerns among some Republicans come after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) handily beat back an effort to recall him in California, where registered Democrats made up a disproportionately high number of mail-in votes.
The GOP hand-wringing also follows a disappointing showing in Georgia’s Senate runoffs earlier this year, where many Republicans point to Trump for depressing turnout and costing the party control of the upper chamber.
“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,” said GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye. “That cost us the United States Senate and that’s something folks in the Senate are very mindful of.”
Trump’s claims of election malfeasance were most recently echoed by conservative radio host Larry Elder, a California gubernatorial candidate challenging Newsom, who shared a form on his campaign website suggesting that if Newsom survived the recall, it would be because of voter fraud.
Republicans have brushed off the implication that Elder’s loss in the deep blue state was a result of him invoking voter fraud in the final days of the race, but they acknowledged it could turn off more moderate GOP and independent voters.
“If the only race that counts is the primary, then amping up the election-was-stolen rhetoric may help,” said Republican donor Dan Eberhart. “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.”
Elder, for his part, struck a noticeably more conciliatory tone after Newsom survived the recall, which as of publication had 59 percent of California voters opposing the measure. The Republican told his supporters to be “gracious in defeat” after he referred to Newsom as governor.
In Virginia, GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has talked about what Republicans have dubbed “election integrity,” launching his own “Election Integrity Task Force” in February prior to winning the Republican nomination for governor. Youngkin said the effort is designed to establish legal voting standards in election processes.
Youngkin has repeatedly said since winning Virginia’s Republican convention in May that President Biden is the legitimately elected president, but he sidestepped the question along with a number of his former GOP opponents in the runup to the convention.
Trump, who has endorsed Youngkin but has not yet campaigned with him, brought up the possibility of election malpractice in the race earlier this month.