How Senate Republican candidates' embrace of Trump's election conspiracy is dimming GOP takeover hopes

How Senate Republican candidates' embrace of Trump's election conspiracy is dimming GOP takeover hopes
Image via Screengrab.

It's hard to overstate just how desperate congressional GOP leaders seem to push a forward-looking message next year even as they remain tethered to Donald Trump's backward-looking 2020 deadweight. But witness this attempt by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, to bury the last election so Republicans can get on with the 2022 midterms.

"The election happened. President Biden won the election. He's constitutionally elected," Sen. Scott, who voted against certification of the election results, conceded recently to VICE news reporter Cameron Joseph. But in his next breath, Scott sought to dictate the tenor of GOP campaigns over the coming year. "What the conversation's going to be about is the Biden agenda and what we're going to do going forward," Scott told VICE.

Yet Republicans' hapless predicament is also maddeningly inexplicable. They most certainly had an opportunity earlier this year to cut themselves loose from Trump, and still they explicitly chose to embrace him and his whopper election-fraud lies as an electoral ploy. Had congressional Republicans simply severed ties and gone on cruise control, the historical trends for how midterms play out for incumbent parties with one-party control of Washington would have overwhelmingly favored the GOP. Instead, in some exceedingly dim corner of their minds, Republicans concluded Trump would be a net-plus for them even after a notable number of conservative voters rejected Trump at the top of the ticket while still voting for down-ballot GOP candidates. It was a perplexing choice for Senate Republicans, in particular, who only need to net one seat next year to reclaim a majority in the upper chamber.

In fact, Sen. Scott's prediction bears absolutely no resemblance to the conspiracy-driven melee that is already enveloping all but one of the eight most competitive 2022 Senate contests. Indeed, it doesn't matter whether Republicans are playing offense or defense, whether there's an open seat or a GOP incumbent, Trump's 2020 election conspiracies are dominating campaigns and defining Republican candidates in the process. What follows is a brief overview taken from Joseph's reporting for VICE.

Democrats on defense

In Georgia, Republicans itching to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock are still facing a frozen GOP field courtesy of Trump. Just last week, Trump declared he had convinced former Georgia football star Herschel Walker—who hasn't lived in the state for decades—to run for a seat that Republicans view as one of their top pick-up chances. Walker has avidly backed Trump's 2020 conspiracies but he isn't exactly known for his political prowess—and that has Peach State Republicans worried.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has been term limited out of the governor's mansion, would have been a strong statewide Senate candidate. But Ducey's dreams were dashed by his inability to illegally overturn the 2020 election results in Trump's favor. In his wake, came GOP Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who also proved insufficiently loyal in gifting the state to Trump and has been working overtime to ingratiate himself ever since announcing his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

Last month, Brnovich penned an angry letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, defending the Senate GOP's sham audit and accusing the Justice Department of being "more interested in supporting the hysterical outcries of leftist pundits on cable television, rather than the rule of law." He also said Garland harbored an "alarming disdain for state sovereignty." Jury's still out on whether Trump will warm to Brnovich, whom he has called "lackluster."

In Nevada, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt has gone above and beyond to associate himself with Trump's election fraud lies from the get-go. Laxalt sued to stop the ballot counting in the state's largest county (which Trump lost), sued to overturn Biden's victory, baselessly claimed votes of dead people had been counted, baselessly claimed votes from undocumented immigrants had tipped the state to Biden, and again filed a post-certification lawsuit alleging the GOP secretary of state had allowed non-citizens to vote. The third time wasn't the charm.

Nonetheless, Laxalt's successive failures and penchant for lying have apparently made him a prime GOP recruit to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto next year, though he has yet to announce his candidacy.

Democrats on offense

In North Carolina, Trump upended the GOP field by endorsing Republican Rep. Ted Budd, who voted against certification of the 2020 election results. Former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory is likely the party's strongest statewide candidate to win the open seat, but he made the unforgivable mistake of admitting Biden won.

In Pennsylvania, three GOP candidates are trying to out-Trump each other in order to fill the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Former House candidate and Trump ally Sean Parnell is pushing for an Arizona-style fraudit in the Keystone State. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos has questioned the 2020 results and helped fund GOP poll watchers in the state. And former Trump donor and U.S. Ambassador Carla Sands has repeatedly complained that her vote wasn't counted last November. Tragic.

In Ohio, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel launched his campaign to win the state's open seat by predicting history would reveal that 2020 was "in large part ... stolen from President Trump." Likewise, former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken kicked off her candidacy by asserting there had been "widespread fraud and irregularities" in 2020 that were "swept under the bus"—which isn't really a thing, but that's not the point. Loyalty to Trump, and no one but Trump, is the point. Neither of them have provided any evidence to back up their claims, but again, that's not the point.

And in Wisconsin, the GOP field is currently Trump loyalist and conspiracy theory enthusiast Sen. Ron Johnson, who hasn't declared whether he'll run for another term or retire. But yeah, the seat is currently held by one of the Senate GOP's biggest purveyors of dangerous anti-democratic, anti-science propaganda. If Johnson vacates, an immediate race to the bottom will ensue among Republican hopefuls.

At this point, New Hampshire stands out as the only competitive race where Trump isn't haunting the GOP... yet. Democrats are playing defense there, hoping to boost Sen. Maggie Hassan to reelection. Republicans hope the state's popular GOP governor, Chris Sununu, will escape Trump's shadow after Sununu recently disputed Dear Leader's assertion that the Granite State's election was plagued by large-scale election fraud.

Even so, Trump dominating seven of eight top-tier races with his grievance-driven lies is a pretty good place for Senate Democrats to start.

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