The rise of Rep. Mike Johnson in the House, coupled with the fall of former Vice President Mike Pence and the dominance of ex-President Donald Trump, shows that 2020 election denialism is a prerequisite for winning Republican power. Johnson, who played a leading role in the effort to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win, benefited in his ascent to the speakership last week from the approval of pro-Trump lawmakers. Pence suspended his run for the White House over the weekend after months mired in the single digits in surveys. His tortured explanations of his constitutionality correct decision – that he lacked power to overturn Biden’s 2020 election win in Congress – failed to convince grassroots Republicans bought into the ex-president’s false claims that he won the election. Pence now joins the swelling ranks of Republicans, from former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to retiring Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, whose careers were eviscerated by contradicting Trump’s lies. Those lies – namely that he was unfairly and illegally ejected from the White House – are now the foundation of Trump’s 2024 campaign to win it back. And after discrediting the electoral system in the eyes of millions of his supporters, Trump is now setting about tarnishing another pillar of America’s democratic institutions – the courts. Over the weekend, the former president stepped up his social media rants at the judge presiding over a fraud trial in New York that targets him, his adult sons and his company, after he was fined for a second time last week for breaching a gag order by apparently attacking court personnel on social media. The 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, with the runaway GOP front-runner facing four criminal trials and the possibility he could be a convicted felon by Election Day in November 2024. In one of those criminal matters – the federal election subversion case – the judge on Sunday reinstated the gag order against him, denying his request to pause it while his appeal played out. Trump’s mood is unlikely to improve in the coming week with his adult children expected to be called to testify in the New York civil case. Given that the judge has already ruled the Trump Organization committed fraud, the ex-president is presenting the civil prosecution as an attempt to wreck his 2024 aspirations. He, for instance, warned in a fundraising email earlier this month that the trial in New York 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.” The claim was false, but it is likely to be accepted by Trump’s most committed supporters. Pence bows to the inevitable The failure of Pence’s campaign says as much about a brand of Republicanism that may be gone forever as it does his own political skills. The former vice president’s campaign was a bid to drag the GOP back to its pre-Trump era. He offered social conservatism, traditional hardline fiscal policies and internationalism through strength in foreign policy that contrasted with his former boss’ fawning toward autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin. But his failure to even reach the Iowa caucuses – the first GOP nominating contest in January – shows that a party still in thrall to Trump is unwilling to hear the truth about the 2020 election and may have turned against Ronald Reagan-style Republicanism for good. As he futilely trekked through early voting states, confronting false perceptions about his power to block the result of the 2020 election, Pence seemed to be trying to win over a party that no longer existed. He told CNN in August, for instance, that he had no right to reject or return slates of electoral votes back to the states and that “by God’s grace, I did my duty under the Constitution of the United States.” But the former vice president, who tried to claim credit for popular aspects of Trump’s presidency while escaping fury over his role in certifying the election in Congress, discovered that Trump is more popular than truth in the modern GOP. The wonder was it took him so long to conclude his campaign was hopeless. Adding to Pence’s humiliation, Trump said his former number two should endorse him — even though he ran a campaign that repudiated the ex-president’s populism. Despite his low standing in polls, Pence is the most high-profile Republican candidate to abandon a 2024 presidential campaign so far. His departure may marginally boost the hopes of other contenders vying to become the alternative to Trump before voting opens in January. “It just means this race is narrowing, which everyone said that it would,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It never goes as fast as some folks would like, but it is narrowing.” The long-shot 2024 hopeful added: “I’m going to be ready to take on Donald Trump when people actually do start to vote in New Hampshire in particular.” Given Trump’s dominance, however, there is no guarantee that a narrowing field will threaten the former president’s lead with time so short. An alternative lesson that the ex-president’s rivals might draw is that forceful condemnations of Trump’s 2020 election denialism are likely to be fatal to their campaigns. Indeed, candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have usually only dared to criticize Trump obliquely over his constitutional vandalism and criminal exposure – including two indictments linked to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. They have said it’s time to move on from the dramas of the past and avoided going into details over the ex-president’s assault on democracy. Johnson represents the mainstream of his party in doubting Biden’s election win Johnson has yet to publicly address his leading role in attempts to discredit Biden’s 2020 election win, having only taken part in a couple of friendly Fox News interviews since becoming the most powerful elected Republican last week after weeks of chaos caused by the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. When a reporter asked him about the issue during a news conference on Capitol Hill, she was booed by GOP lawmakers — one of whom told her to shut up. Johnson was not as vocal as Trump in claiming that the 2020 election was marred by outright fraud or was a plot by Democrats to deprive the ex-president of a second term. But the Louisiana Republican orchestrated a number of the legal and quasi-constitutional efforts to cast doubt on Biden’s win. For example, he organized support among GOP lawmakers for a legal brief that joined Texas and other red states that questioned the results in swing states won by Biden. And on January 6, 2021, he signed a statement explaining that he and 36 other House Republicans would vote to sustain objections to electors from key states Biden won because they felt the votes were unconstitutional because of accommodations officials made to voters during the pandemic. And even after the US Capitol insurrection that day, Johnson joined the majority of House Republicans in voting to reject Electoral College votes. While his actions then threatened the democratic fabric of the nation, they appear to have helped his political career. There was evidence last week that Johnson’s maneuvering after the 2020 election helped secure his rise to the speakership. The little-known lawmaker emerged as a compromise candidate amid deep fatigue and frustration in the GOP conference as gaping splits in the party were making it impossible to find a new speaker. But the previous candidate for speaker, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, was mistrusted by many Trump backers because he didn’t vote to block the certification of Biden’s victory. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, said that Emmer’s vote to certify the 2020 election “played a big role” in her vote against him. “I couldn’t support a speaker of the House that didn’t object,” Greene said. “The speaker of the House needs to reflect the views and the will of Republican voters,” Greene said, reflecting the imperative for leading party figures to indulge the beliefs of base voters even if they aren’t true and even if they come at a cost with the general electorate. Democrats are already trying to make Johnson’s record on election credibility into a liability as the 2024 campaign heats up with Republicans seeking to cling onto their House majority. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for instance, sent a fundraising email to supporters on Sunday arguing that House Republicans “made the architect of their anti-democratic schemes” the speaker of the House. “We must defeat their MAGA Majority and win back the House in 2024,” the email said.