Republicans have tried putting Trump on the ballot in other years, and each time it has motivated Democrats more than Republicans.
The strategy for Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy in 2022 is simple. They think that the path back to Republican House and Senate majorities in 2022 goes through Trump. The assumption is that Trumpism will turn out Republican voters while Democratic voters stay home.
As E.J. Dionne wrote, there is ample reason to doubt this plan:
The GOP figures that staying close to Trump will rally his supporters to the polls in 2022. But Republican pollster Whit Ayres cites the 2017 governor’s race in Virginia as a cautionary tale: Turnout went up in pro-Trump rural counties but “went up far more in anti-Trump suburban and metropolitan counties,” leading to the defeat of Republican Ed Gillespie by Democrat Ralph Northam.
Yes, outside of presidential-election years, embracing Trump may energize his opponents far more than his supporters. This was a factor in New Mexico Democrat Melanie Stansbury’s landslide victory in a special election for a U.S. House seat last week.
There are numerous other examples of this strategy failing. In Pennsylvania, Republicans lost a House seat to Conor Lamb because his opponent ran like a mini-Trump. The same story unfolded in the Pennsylvania governor’s race. Candidates across the country tried to run like an on Trump. Unless they were in a heavily Republican district or state, think Ron DeSantis in Florida, who barely was elected governor, they have failed.
The problem with a political party transforming itself into a one-person cult of personality is that Republican supporters only get most excited for Trump. After he lost the presidency, Trump campaigned in the Georgia Senate special elections as both Republican incumbents lost.
Trump is a stronger motivator of Democrats and anti-Trumpers than Republicans. Traditionally, the party out of power has done well by making the midterm election a referendum on the incumbent president.
McCarthy and McConnell are abandoning that strategy by relitigating 2020, and history suggests that the result could be another Democratic victory in 2022.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association