The growth of Rep. Mike Johnson in the House, the decline of ex-Vice President Mike Pence, and the continued supremacy of ex-President Donald Trump all demonstrate that 2020 election denial is essential to Republican victory.
Pro-Trump members were instrumental in Johnson’s climb to the speakership last week. Johnson played a prominent role in the fight to thwart the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
After months of polling in the single digits, Pence decided to stop his bid for the presidency over the weekend. The grassroots Republicans didn’t buy into the ex-president’s phoney assertions that he won the 2020 election, despite his torturous explanations of his constitutionally sound conclusion that he lacked power to overturn Biden’s 2020 election triumph in Congress. Pence has now joined the growing numbers of Republicans whose careers were obliterated when they dared to confront Trump’s lies, including former Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney and retiring Utah Senator Mitt Romney.
Trump’s campaign to retake the White House in 2024 will be built on the same falsehoods that got him ousted the first time around. Millions of Trump supporters already view the electoral system as corrupt, and now he’s moving on to the next bastion of American democracy: the judiciary. After being fined for a second time last week for breaching a gag order by apparently attacking court personnel on social media, the former president escalated his social media rants at the judge presiding over a fraud trial in New York that targets him, his adult sons, and his company over the weekend.
With the runaway GOP frontrunner facing four criminal trials and the possibility he could be a convicted felon by Election Day in November 2024, this trial — and Trump’s attempt to fight the case in the court of public opinion with inflammatory commentary — is a prelude to an unprecedented election year. On Sunday, the judge reinstated the gag order against him in the federal election subversion case, one of the criminal charges he faces.
With Trump’s adult children likely to be called to testify in the New York civil case next week, the president’s disposition is unlikely to change. In light of the judge’s finding of fraud on the part of the Trump Organisation, the ex-president is portraying the ongoing civil prosecution as an effort to derail his 2024 presidential ambitions. For example, he stated in a fundraising email earlier this month that the New York trial was “a way to keep him off the campaign trail and to threaten him with the ‘corporate death penalty’ if he chooses to continue his campaign for president.” Although untrue, this statement will undoubtedly be believed by Trump’s most ardent fans.
Pence finally concedes to reality
Pence’s campaign failure reflects less on his personal ineptitude as a politician than on the extinction of a particular strain of Republicanism.
The former vice president ran for office in an effort to return the Republican Party to its pre-Trump status quo. In contrast to his old boss’ grovelling before autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin, he advocated social conservatism, traditional conservative economic policies, and internationalism via strength in foreign policy.
In any case, the fact that he didn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, the first GOP nomination battle in January, demonstrates that a party still in thrall to Trump is unable to hear the truth about the 2020 race and may have turned against Ronald Reagan-style Republicanism for forever. During his fruitless tour of early voting states, Pence looked to be trying to win over a party that no longer existed by correcting misguided beliefs about his ability to influence the outcome of the 2020 election. For example, in August he informed AWN he had no authority to reject or return electoral vote slates to the states and that “by God’s grace, I did my duty under the Constitution of the United States.”
Attempting to deflect criticism of his involvement in certifying Trump’s victory in Congress, the former vice president learned the hard way that modern Republicans value flattery of Trump over the facts. How he waited so long to realise his campaign was doomed is a mystery. Pence’s humiliation was compounded when Trump stated the former vice president should back him despite having run on a platform rejecting the previous president’s populism.
Pence is the most prominent Republican candidate to withdraw from the 2024 presidential race so far, despite his low polling numbers. His withdrawal may provide a small boost to the prospects of other candidates hoping to unseat Trump before voting begins in January.
On Sunday’s “State of the Union,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told AWN’s Jake Tapper, “It just means this race is narrowing, which everyone said that it would.” “It’s getting smaller, though perhaps not as quickly as some would like.” The long-shot candidate for 2024 continued, “I’m going to be ready to take on Donald Trump when people actually do start to vote in New Hampshire in particular.”
There is no assurance that a shrinking field will pose a danger to Trump’s lead over the former president in such a short period of time. As an alternative, the ex-president’s opponents could learn that vocal opposition to Trump’s 2020 election denialism is a surefire way to lose support and ultimately the election. Despite Trump’s criminal exposure and devastation of the Constitution, including two indictments related to his attempts to change the 2020 election, contenders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have usually only ventured to criticise him in the most indirect terms. They have argued it is time to put the previous crises behind us and have avoided discussing the ex-president’s attack on democracy in any detail.
When he expresses uncertainty about Biden’s chances of being elected, Johnson speaks for the majority of his party.
Johnson, who became the most powerful elected Republican last week after weeks of chaos caused by the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has yet to publicly address his leading role in attempts to discredit Biden’s 2020 election win, participating in only a couple of friendly Fox News interviews since then. During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Republican members booed a reporter who asked him about the subject, and one of them told her to shut up.