Former President Donald Trump is taking his commitment to 2020 election disinformation to the next level — and it should be terrifying his own party.
Seemingly out of the blue, Trump issued an odd but potentially highly consequential statement Wednesday:
If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.
Trump’s brief missive is a tantrum masquerading as political strategy, and its bizarre demands raise … many questions. None of them are comforting for the GOP.
Trump has worked backward from the lie that the election was rigged and is now asking Republicans to manufacture evidence to buttress that lie.
First of all, what could it possibly mean to “solve” the fraud? Trump’s allegations about what was questionable about 2020 has always involved throwing lies at the wall to see if anything would stick: Dominion voting machines deleting Trump votes, fraudulent mail-in ballots, Sharpie markers invalidating Trump votes, suitcases stuffed with fake pro-Joe Biden ballots — to name just a few. All of these claims — and every other claim about the 2020 election being rigged — have been presented without credible evidence and debunked. But the point is that Trump has worked backward from the lie that the election was rigged and is now asking Republicans to manufacture evidence to buttress that lie. It’s a big ask.
It’s not only unclear what would be solved, but where it would be solved and how it would be solved. There is no grand tribunal or committee to submit fake evidence to, and even the Republican Party’s scramble to use shamelessly partisan ballot reviews at the state level to retroactively call into question the election results in places like Arizona are failing or backfiring. If Trump is simply looking for some kind of catharsis to release the shame he feels about losing, it’s unclear how it could be achieved.
But what should deeply worry Republicans is Trump’s prediction that Republicans will opt to not vote in the midterms or the next presidential election if they aren’t able to “solve” a nonexistent problem to his liking. And that’s because it seems to be a thinly veiled threat.
Trump is implying he could encourage an election boycott if he’s displeased with Republican allegiance to his 2020 position — and that could wreak havoc on the GOP’s election prospects.
It’s already evident that Trump is capable of dramatically reshaping voter behavior. His constant disinformation about unreliability of mail-in ballots caused a huge partisan gap in mail-in ballots vs. in-person voting, sometimes reversing historical trends. Furthermore, some political analysts believe that Trump’s constant messaging in the wake of 2020 voting about the election being rigged may have contributed to the loss of both Republican incumbents in Georgia’s senate runoff races in January by causing Republicans to grow mistrustful of the electoral system or implying voting was pointless.
In the short term, Trump likely sees this threat as a way to extract even greater obedience from the GOP establishment — and potentially ward off 2024 challengers. But it's a shortsighted approach, to put it lightly.
Should Trump choose to engage in months or years of threatening a boycott, he could indeed persuade some of his base to check out of electoral politics altogether and spend their political energy in other arenas (arenas that should worry us, given Trump’s narrative on Jan. 6). And even if Trump were to backtrack eventually, he might not be able to reverse all the damage he’s caused.
If Trump’s threat is a one-off, it’s of little consequence. But if he’s foreshadowing a future strategy, the Republican Party could suffer a devastating blow from within.