The Memo: Losses for election deniers hold lessons for GOP

Supporters of Pennsylvania Republican candidate for Senate Doug Mastriano speaks to a supporter of Democratic candidate for Governor Josh Shapiro
Greg Nash
Supporters of Pennsylvania Republican candidate for Senate Doug Mastriano speaks to a supporter of Democratic candidate for Governor Josh Shapiro before a rally for Shapiro at Bucks County Community Collage in Newtown, Pa., on Sunday, November 6, 2022.

Some of the Republican Party’s most prominent election deniers were defeated in last week’s midterms. Now, many in the GOP hope their party will learn a hard lesson.

“For the groups that were promoting conspiracies about 2020, the midterm elections were a giant setback,” said strategist Alex Conant, who served as communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential bid.

“If you are a Republican looking to run for president in 2024, it is clear that being an election denier is going to be a liability in the general election,” Conant added.

Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was the latest election denier to find herself on the losing side.

The former TV anchor, who was endorsed by former President Trump and had amplified his false claims regarding the 2020 presidential election, was projected late Monday to have lost narrowly to her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs.

Lake had not conceded the race as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Among the other high-profile election deniers who lost were Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Bolduc had backed up Trump’s claims of fraud but reversed himself after winning his primary.

Jim Marchant, the GOP nominee for secretary of state in Nevada, also lost. Marchant had been one of the driving forces behind a vigorously pro-Trump “America First” slate of candidates spread across several states.

For Republicans from a more traditional mold, the results are a welcome rebuke to candidates whose appeal is confined to the party’s most rightward fringe. The outcome is also a reminder that statewide and national elections tend to be won by appealing to the center ground.

“I do think this will have an impact, but I’m still trying to figure out how much of an impact,” said Texas-based GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser. 

Referring to the growing appreciation of the electoral downside to denialism and conspiracy theories, Steinhauser added, “I have at least seen significant numbers of people making that point who were not making that point before the midterms.”

The degree to which fringe-friendly candidates underperformed other Republicans was striking this year.

In Pennsylvania, Mastriano lost his race against Democrat Josh Shapiro by 15 points, roughly three times as large a margin as Mehmet Oz (R) suffered in his defeat to Sen.-elect John Fetterman (D).

An even starker example was seen in New Hampshire, where Bolduc lost his Senate race to incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) by roughly 7 points while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, a Trump skeptic, won reelection by about 15 points.

Republican leaders in Washington, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), had unsuccessfully courted the moderate Sununu to run for the upper chamber.

“It’s not difficult to imagine Chris Sununu beating Maggie Hassan without a whole lot of trouble,” Republican strategist Dan Judy said.

Judy added, in reference to Bolduc: “By the time he started to pivot his campaign to the things voters were really concerned about, it was too late. He had defined himself — and been defined by the Democrats’ campaign — as this crazy election denier.”

But even the moderates acknowledge that there is not going to be an instant reversal in terms of the attitudes of the Republican base toward claims of election malfeasance.

An Economist-YouGov poll conducted in the days before the midterms found that 66 percent of Republican voters did not believe President Biden had won the 2020 election legitimately.

A third run for the White House in 2024 by Trump looks sure to inflame those voters further.

Those factors ensure there will, at the least, be an enduring constituency in Republican primaries for candidates trafficking in claims of election fraud.

Steinhauser said that he was not expecting a “sea-change” among the GOP electorate but that he could envision a situation where those entertaining false theories could drop from two-thirds to around 50 percent.

Judy, for his part, had an emphatic answer when asked if the defeats of the election deniers would have ramifications for the GOP.

“I certainly hope it will,” he said. 

“There is nothing that will cure a foolish policy position like losing.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags 2024 Alex Conant Chris Sununu don bolduc election deniers GOP Katie Hobbs lessons losses Marco Rubio midterms Republicans The Memo Trump
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