Mitch McConnell is a very careful politician. He rarely acts rashly or speaks without thinking first. Which means that when he does talk, it’s usually worth paying very close attention to what he says.
Which brings me to an interview CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers conducted with McConnell, the Senate minority leader, about Republican prospects in the 2022 midterms – and, in particular, former President Donald Trump’s ongoing insistence that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
“It’s important for candidates to remember we need to respect the results of our democratic process unless the court system demonstrates that some significant fraud occurred that would change the outcome,” McConnell said.
Which is 100% correct. There is simply no evidence – at the state or national level – that suggests that the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent. None.
And McConnell is right that focusing on the idea of a stolen past election is the surest way to lose a future election. Elections are usually decided by a candidate’s vision for what comes next, not by dwelling on what has already happened.
The problem? Lots of Republican Senate candidates are willingly accepting Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election as a way to curry favor with the GOP base.
“I need to say something that I get attacked by the media for saying this, I get attacked by my opponents for saying this, but I believe it very strongly and so I want to say it up here: I believe the election was stolen from Donald J. Trump,” Josh Mandel, the Republican front-runner in the Ohio Senate race, said at a debate last year.
J.D. Vance, an author who is competing against Mandel for the GOP Senate nomination in Ohio, said last year that “there were certainly people voting illegally on a large-scale basis.” In that same race, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno ran an ad in which he says: “President Trump says the election was stolen, and he’s right.”
Eric Greitens, the current leader of a crowded Republican field in the Missouri Senate race, traveled to Arizona twice as that state conducted a phony audit of the presidential vote. “We need to have audits across the country because we must get election integrity back,” Greitens said.
Rep. Billy Long, who is running in that same Missouri GOP primary, recently released a new ad in which he says this: “Democrats rigged the election. Now we have Biden and the far-left crazies letting inflation rise faster than an auctioneer rattling off numbers,” Long says. “I’m running for Senate to stop the insanity, stop the wokeness, and stop the Democrats from stealing another election.”
Rep. Ted Budd, the Trump-endorsed candidate in the North Carolina Senate race, voted against certifying the Electoral College results on January 6, 2021. As did Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, another Trump-backed candidate in the state’s open Senate contest.
There’s more. Lots more. But you get the idea: Supporting the Big Lie has become a sort of litmus test within the Republican Party. If you say the 2020 election was stolen, you are immediately identified as a Trumpist. If you side with facts and reject the stolen election narrative, you risk being labeled a RINO (“Republican in Name Only”) who will be targeted by the former president.
That’s the harsh political reality McConnell is up against. He can talk all day about the need to “respect the results of our democratic process” but the truth is that a whole lot of Republican Senate candidates have already gone all in on the Big Lie. And McConnell isn’t changing any of their minds.