Trump election claims loom over GOP on Jan. 6 anniversary
Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to scrap a news conference on the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol granted Republicans a temporary reprieve from the former president’s efforts to relitigate his 2020 election loss, even as his false claims of voter fraud continue to haunt many in the GOP ahead of the 2022 midterms.
The former president’s planned remarks stirred consternation among Republicans, including some Trump allies, who feared that the news conference would only serve to highlight one of the darkest moments of Trump’s presidency and drag his party back into a potentially damaging debate over the 2020 election and its aftermath.
But in canceling his news conference, Trump also vowed to air many of the same grievances during a high-profile rally in Arizona later this month, underscoring how his claims could continue to weigh on the party as it looks toward both the midterms and the 2024 presidential election.
“It is old news,” Saul Anuzis, a political consultant and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. “This is the only thing the Democrats have to hang their hats on and so they’re trying to make it as big of an issue as they can.”
“From a political standpoint, Republicans have to address the issue, but move on to the issues that are relevant to the American people: Jobs, immigration, the border, taxes, regulation,” he added.
For Republicans, navigating Trump’s false election claims and the legacy of the Jan. 6 riot has emerged as a complicated task in 2022, when the GOP is hoping to recapture control of the House and Senate in an otherwise favorable political environment.
On one hand, the continued election fraud claims have provided political ammunition to Democrats, who are seeking to seize on voters’ lingering concerns about Trump and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race. On Wednesday, for instance, Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, launched ad buys in battleground states seeking to tie Trump-endorsed Republican candidates to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
But Trump’s claim that he was robbed of a second term in the White House by rampant voter fraud and malfeasance on the part of election officials has continued to be a rallying point for many of his most ardent supporters.
A poll released late last month by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that nearly three-quarters of Republicans — 71 percent — doubt the legitimacy of President Biden’s electoral victory, while only 21 percent said that he was either “probably” or “definitely” the winner.
The same poll also found that an overwhelming majority of Republicans — 80 percent — see the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol as a “protest,” while 55 percent of all respondents described the events as a “riot.” What’s more, about a quarter of Republicans described those who participated in the events of Jan. 6 as “patriots,” while a similar number said the perpetrators were “Antifa.”
“There’s this line you have to walk if you’re a Republican right now where you have to understand that President Trump is still the most important person in the party and that his support runs deep,” one former Trump aide said. “To an extent, that means having to live with what he’s going to say about the  election. It just is what it is.”
Trump planned to use the Thursday remarks at his private club in Palm Beach, Fla., to further his baseless claim that the 2020 election had been stolen from him and criticize the work of the House select committee charged with investigating the events of Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
But in a statement Wednesday night, the former president called off the event, blaming the decision on both the media and the House select committee investigating the Capitol assault.
Prior to that announcement, however, allies of the former president urged him to cancel the planned speech, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in the Senate, who warned that “there could be peril” in holding the event and that he would be better served focusing “on election reform instead,” according to Axios.
That Trump had planned to counterprogram a scheduled Thursday prayer service at the Capitol to commemorate the anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot stood in stark contrast with the tone set by other Republicans leaders, who have sought to strike a delicate balance between condemning the assault and attacking Democrats, while avoiding any direct confrontation with Trump over his election claims.
For Trump, however, the decision to call off his Thursday news conference may have been driven more by his own political ambitions than a desire to present a unified front with other GOP leaders.
The former president is weighing a potential comeback bid for the White House in 2024, and Republican donors and strategists have repeatedly expressed concern that Trump’s perpetual desire to relitigate his 2020 electoral loss could hamper the success of a future campaign.
“If he wants to run again, I think the Democrats have given him the best reason he could ask for. Joe Biden isn’t all there. Inflation is out of control. The country needs President Trump back,” one GOP donor said. “The more he talks about the last election – it reminds people of what they didn’t like about him.”
Anuzis, the former Michigan GOP chair, acknowledged that Republicans are “never going to control” what Trump says with regard to the 2020 election. But he also predicted that the shadow cast by Trump’s election fraud claims and the Jan. 6 riot will fade, especially as the midterms get into full swing.
“Republicans need to get out there and have their own campaigns,” Anuzis said. “Trump is going to have a smaller and smaller impact.”
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