Midterm elections almost always favor the party out of power, giving Republicans an immediate edge heading into next year's races. By dint of historical trends alone, Republicans could have done almost nothing other than complain about President Joe Biden and they would have been in prime position to potentially flip both congressional chambers in 2022. After all, they only need to net one seat in the Senate and five seats in the House—to say nothing of the upcoming gerrymanders.
But instead, Republicans opted to cling to Donald Trump, who has two key obsessions: 1) pushing his baseless 2020 election fraud lie and 2) promoting loyalists who push his baseless 2020 election fraud lie. Notice that neither of those have anything to do with helping the Republican Party or securing GOP majorities next year. To wit, Trump is currently trying to eject Sen. Mitch McConnell as Senate minority leader instead of collaborating with him to flip the Senate next year. Why? Clearly because McConnell declared there was no evidence of enough systemic voter fraud in 2020 to overturn the election. In fact, McConnell said, "This election actually was not unusually close."
But Trump's relentless devotion to the Big Lie poses a massive problem for Republicans' goals next year. As Georgia's Senate runoffs in January proved, selling your voters on the notion that their vote won't be counted is a recipe for depressing turnout.
At the same time, Trump's No. 1 criteria for endorsing candidates revolves around their willingness to sell the Big Lie (i.e., depress turnout).
As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake notes, of the roughly three dozen endorsements Trump has made, nearly half of them have gone to candidates who have wholeheartedly embraced Trump's 2020 election conspiracy theories. (The other half have gone to loyal incumbents and toadies like Sarah Huckabee Sanders.)
Trump’s criteria is particularly problematic in competitive Senate races, where Blake's rundown of Trump endorsements oozes 2020 fraud:
But the same theme runs through key states where Trump hasn't endorsed yet. In Ohio, where there's an open seat, former state Treasurer Josh Mandel and Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken have been in a pitched battle to one-up each other on the 2020 fraud claims. And in Arizona, Attorney General-turned-Senate candidate Mark Brnovich has been desperately trying to make up for his original sin of certifying the state's election results by defending the state's sham audit and pressing the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to turn over "the routers" to the state’s GOP-led senate.
As I noted last week, Trump is radicalizing the party by thinning the ranks of reasonable Republicans in both safe GOP seats and swing seats alike. He is primarily doing that based on performative loyalty using the promotion of 2020 election fraud as his chief criteria for elevating candidates.
Those radicals will easily prevail in ruby red seats, but they could cost the GOP dearly in swing seats. That's a massive problem for McConnell but, frankly, Trump doesn't give a damn.