Trump’s litmus test

Yesterday, I observed that Sen. Mark Kelly is “underwater” in Arizona. Polls show that more Arizonans disapprove of his performance in the Senate than approve of it. And Kelly is up for reelection (or defeat) in less than a year.

In passing, I noted that early polling among Republicans puts Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich well out in front of other GOP Senate hopefuls in the state. He is the first choice of 27 percent of respondents. The next most popular candidate is at only 10 percent. Brnovich also polls slightly better than his rivals in early head-to-head polling against Kelly.

However, there’s a fly in ointment. Donald Trump is pressing Brnovich, as Attorney General, to back the claim that Trump carried Arizona in 2020:

Former President Donald Trump renewed his pressure campaign on Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, asking in a statement Tuesday what happened to the “Rigged and Stolen Arizona Presidential Election that is being investigated.”

In his statement, Trump baselessly claims 35,000 fictitious votes in Pima County and calls on the state Legislature to decertify the 2020 election results.

The statement, issued through his Save America political action committee, didn’t attack Brnovich. But it makes clear that the investigation opened by Brnovich’s office hasn’t satisfied Trump, a man whose influence in Republican circles still could impact politics here.

Brnovich is seeking the GOP nomination in next year’s U.S. Senate race. Trump’s endorsement in that crowded primary could help determine who gets to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.

I understand why, for Trump, embracing unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen from him is close to a litmus test. The myth of invincibility (Trump will win so much we’ll get tired of all the winning) is central both to Trump’s psyche and to his appeal. Reality — that Trump led the party to defeat in 2018 and again in 2020 — is unacceptable.

I don’t quite understand why large numbers registered Republicans may demand that GOP candidates play along with Trump on this matter. Why not thank the former president for his service and try to find a candidate more likely to win going forward? Alternatively, if one thinks Trump is still the guy, why not concentrate on electing a Republican Senate for him to work with in 2025, rather than rejecting strong candidates who won’t go along with the “we wuz robbed” excuse?

Glenn Youngkin wisely declined to embrace that narrative in his race for governor of Virginia. Good thing, too. Youngkin could not have performed as well as he did in the Northern Virginia suburbs if he had associated himself with Trump’s claim that the 2020 presidential race was stolen. Given the tightness of the race, Youngkin might well have lost had he carried that banner.

Trump ultimately did not demand that Youngkin do so. Keep in mind, however, that there was no GOP gubernatorial primary. Had there been one, might Youngkin have been forced to go all-in on 2020 fraud claims or else see a rival win the nomination?

I don’t know. I just hope that Trump won’t demand fealty to his claims about the 2020 election, especially from Republicans running in Senate primaries. More importantly, I hope Republican voters won’t base their voting decisions on who has, and who has not, subscribed to Trump’s theory of the last election.

Allahpundit is pessimistic on this score:

Actually, the GOP’s best hope of unseating [Mark] Kelly is Gov. Doug Ducey. Or it was Ducey, until he refused to overturn his state’s 2020 results amid Trump’s insane whining. Now he’s unelectable in Arizona. Give it a few months and Brnovich will end up that way too.

I hope not — at least not because of his handling of Trump’s complaint about the 2020 election.

Trump’s complaint about the Georgia result probably cost Republicans the Senate last time out because it depressed conservative turnout in the Georgia runoff elections. But at least when Trump first lodged these complaints there might still have been an outside chance of the Georgia result being reversed.

A year later, there’s no chance of the 2020 outcome being reversed. Complaining about it now serves no substantial purpose other than upholding the myth of Trump’s invincibility.

Adherence to that myth shouldn’t be a litmus test for GOP candidates. If it is, the odds of Republicans regaining a majority in the Senate will diminish.

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