Over the weekend, Donald Trump held a huge indoor rally in Arizona, called "Rally to Protect Our Elections," which in all likelihood will end up being a super-spreader event since so many of his followers are anti-vaccine and anti-mask. They showed up in great numbers, dressed in their flamboyant MAGA gear, excited and thrilled to be in the presence of their leader.
Trump made passing reference to the vaccines in his endless speech, taking credit for them and telling people he thinks they should get them but then going out of his way to say he respects those who choose not to do it. Of course, the crowd really only cheered the latter.
But the rally was billed as really about "election integrity," which in Trumpworld translates to the Big Lie about 2020. And he delivered. He went on and on about the so-called "fraud" spreading bogus details along the way, reinforcing his determination to organize the party around his lost cause. In the context of January 6th and Trump's ongoing Big Lie, there was a darker message as well.
"Our nation is up against the most sinister forces...This nation does not belong to them, this nation belongs to you," Trump said.
He wasn't talking about a foreign enemy. And the reference to 1776 was, as you'll no doubt recall, one of the insurrectionist rallying cries on January 6th, even pushed by GOP members of Congress on that day:
Let's just say that Donald Trump is not distancing himself from the insurrection. In fact, he is using code words and conspiracy theory signals to suggest that he's still as happy about it as he reportedly was when it happened.
Meanwhile, in Washington, we have seen the Republican Party do everything in its power to bury any investigation into that day. They've waged an ongoing tantrum over Speaker Nancy Pelosi's various attempts to put together a commission or select committee to gather a full account of what happened on that day. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy insists that no investigation that doesn't include Republicans who are pushing the Big Lie and are, therefore, complicit in the insurrection, can possibly be fair. (Would he would have wanted members of Al Qaeda on the 9/11 commission as well?)
While there's little doubt that a few GOP members of Congress are true believers, this is really all about one thing: the 2022 elections. And the last thing Republicans want to be talking about in that campaign is the trainwreck of January 6th. But even if they had been able to derail a congressional investigation, they can't shut up Donald Trump, and he can talk of nothing else — and the Republican establishment is increasingly worried about it.
CNN's Manu Raju asked South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune... about the former president's claim that the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was a "lovefest.""That's not what any of us here experienced," he responded. "Trying to rehash and revisit and re-litigate the past election is not a winning strategy for trying to get the majorities back in 2022."
Raju asked the South Dakota senator if Trump's claims of widespread fraud will hurt the party's chances in the 2022 midterms. "I mean, he's gonna keep saying it. There's not anything we can do about it," Thune said. "But like I said, anytime you're talking about the past, you're not talking about the future. And I think the future is where we're gonna live."
Trump spoke to this at the Arizona rally this past weekend:
I tell this to people. I tell it to Republicans and a lot of them are very good people and they say, "Well, sir, we have to get onto the future." Let me tell you, you're not going to have a future. First of all, our nation is being destroyed, but you're not going to have a future in '22 or '24 if you don't find out how they cheated with hundreds of thousands and even millions of votes, because you won't win anything. You won't win anything.
Whether they like it or not, the GOP strategy in 2022 is going to be about relitigating 2020. Trump is out there endorsing candidates who defended him and nixing anyone who may have balked, creating even more anxiety among Republican leaders. He is still in charge.
You might wonder why they are so nervous since Trump does get out their base and in the midterm that could be decisive. Well, they are probably aware that Trump continuing to dominate will also help Democratic turnout. And while it is very true that much depends on the Democrats' ability to deliver the material benefit they promised, negative partisanship is a very powerful motivator and nobody brings it out like Donald Trump.
CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein has written about this, noting that Democrats were able to produce exceptional turnout in 2018 and 2020 among people who don't always vote because of the deep antipathy to Trump. They have all the contact numbers for these folks and will be sure to let them know exactly what Trump is up to, even if they aren't paying close attention.
Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, has said that the 7.7 million voters who didn't vote in 2016 but came out in the next two elections, along with the 18 million first-time voters in 2020 are key to success in 2022. According to the Catalyst election analysis, half of those first-time voters who cast a ballot for Biden, did so to vote against Trump. If he's out there talking his usual trash, the Democrats will likely have a much easier time persuading those voters to come out in 2022.
Beyond that, Mitch McConnell is almost certainly concerned about Trump's ongoing disparagement of the voting system. After all, he knows there's a good chance he lost the Senate because Trump's accusations of rampant electoral corruption resulted in Georgia Republicans failing to vote in the runoff that elected two Democratic senators. Trump has a very loyal base but there may be more than a few who figure it just isn't worth it when they hear the constant refrain about corrupt election systems.
Whether Democrats are able to take advantage of this opening remains to be seen. The official line is that they are going to depend upon a good economy and the proverbial "kitchen table issues" to get out the vote. But last week the president himself seemed to indicate that he understands that Democratic voters are still highly motivated by their loathing of the man who still insists he won the election. At a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Biden threw down the gauntlet, calling McAuliffe's Republican opponent a "Trump acolyte."
Biden added: "I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry." He trolled Trump in a way designed to thrill the crowd, which it did:
He knew what he was doing. It was a subtle, but effective jab at the former president who famously had to hold his glass with two hands. Don't be surprised to see more of this. If Trump won't go away the Democrats wouldn't be fools not to take advantage of it.