How closely aligned with Trump?

WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump is ramping up his election year efforts to dominate the Republican Party with a Saturday rally in Arizona in which he plans to charge anyone who has lied that the 2020 presidential election has been stolen, likely including the GOP of the state denounces governor, Doug Ducey.

But 2,000 miles east in Washington, there are little signs that some Republicans are fed up with the charade. Mike Rounds, the generally humble senator from South Dakota, was perhaps the boldest in acknowledging the reality that the election was, in fact, fair. Rather than being shunned, he was supported by his GOP colleagues, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Rounds later said the party should be ” louder to tell voters the truth about the 2020 campaign.

Meanwhile, the top Republicans in Washington have been trying behind the scenes to get Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of Trump’s most vocal opponents in the party, to run for a Senate seat. And on Saturday, Glenn Youngkin becomes the first Republican since 2010 to be sworn in as governor of Virginia after campaigning to keep Trump at bay.

Less than two months before the 2022 primary season begins, Trump remains the most popular figure among voters who will decide which Republicans advance to the fall general election. But the recent dynamics bring new clarity to the debate that is likely to animate the GOP throughout the year: how closely GOP candidates should align with Trump and his election lie.

“I was very encouraged by the response from a number of different senators who supported Sen. Rounds,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has been a rare Republican who urged the party to move away from Trump and his election obsession.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that the election was stolen. Election officials and his own attorney general rejected the idea. Trump’s arguments have also been roundly rejected by the courts, including judges appointed by the former president.

Still, dissent on Trump’s election within the GOP remains rare. From Ohio to Georgia and Arizona, candidates running for Senate, Governor and Attorney General have fully embraced Trump’s lies as they tried to win his approval, avert his anger, or win his base.

In the short term, such positioning could help Republican candidates come out on top in primary fields that are often crowded. But there are concerns that it could hurt the party in the fall, especially among suburban voters who have become increasingly decisive in recent campaigns. The farther to the right Republicans move now, the easier it could become for their Democratic rivals to portray them as extreme in general elections.

And any time candidates spend looking back is time not spent attacking President Joe Biden, who is seen as particularly vulnerable amid rising inflation and coronavirus cases.

“It’s one of those issues that’s typically popular in a primary and unpopular in a general,” said Chris DeRose, a Republican attorney and former Supreme Court clerk in Arizona’s Maricopa County.

He said candidates, who often privately acknowledge that the elections were fair, were clearly courting the former president by expressing skepticism about the 2020 election.

“Donald Trump is clearly the most sought-after endorsement among Republican candidates,” he said. “That could make all the difference in a Republican primary.”

John Shimkus, a Republican and former congressman from Illinois, said it was easy for “armchair quarterbacks” not on the ballot to judge candidates who are doing what they can to win their primary.

“All races will be fought by Trump and flagged on Fox. So these candidates have to be very, very careful. They have to win the primaries to win the general,” he said.

However, the risk is clear in the Arizona Senate race. In a year that favors Republicans, the state should be a relatively viable pick-me-up and some in the party are eager to see Ducey join the race against Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. But Trump’s repeated attacks on Ducey, who has refused to support election conspiracies, could make it difficult for him to succeed in a GOP primaries.

Prior to his trip, Trump issued a statement that he would never support Ducey.

Whatever Republican tops Arizona and other pivotal races, he will have to convince voters to participate in an electoral system that Trump has ridiculed as a witness for years.

Many Republicans still blame Trump for the party’s loss of Georgia’s two second Senate elections in 2021, arguing that he squelched turnout by insisting the election would be rigged, allowing them to control the Senate. (Trump has argued that further investigation is the only way to instill confidence in future elections.)

“Trump still has this excessive vote and influence and too many candidates fear his wrath,” said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and critic of Trump. “We know Donald Trump will use his megaphone to condemn those who do not believe his lies and his false narrative about the 2020 election. So these candidates are being led on: If they tell the truth, they risk losing their primaries and incur Trump’s wrath, and if they give in and go along with this non-issue, they risk alienating many voters.”

Still, DeRose said he’s not worried the issue will weigh on turnout despite what’s happened in Georgia.

“The Republican base is pretty excited,” he said, predicting turnout comparable to 2010, when Republicans made historic gains in the House. With inflation soaring and continued criticism of Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, he said, “Things are not going well in this country and I think you’re going to see this huge backlash.”

Others disagreed. Barbara Comstock, a Trump critic and former GOP congressman from Virginia, warned Republicans risked nominating fringe candidates who would lose to the general.

“Republicans feel like they’re going to win no matter who’s on the ticket. And I disagree with that statement,” she said, pointing to Ohio, where senate candidates are desperately trying to outdo each other. “I think you’re really taking a chance on reliable racing.”

Nevertheless, Trump is expected to continue hammering the issue Saturday in Florence, Arizona, a Republican stronghold about 70 miles southeast of Phoenix. It’s the first of what aides say will see a livelier pace of Trump events in the coming months. Trump announced another rally Friday later in January in Texas, where the March 1 primaries formally usher in the mid-term campaign.

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Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Pierre, South Dakota, contributed to this report

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Source How closely aligned with Trump?

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