As Trump restarts rallies, GOP strategists hope against all odds that he won't rehash 2020 election

The Republican Party finds itself in befuddling circumstances as former President Donald Trump prepares to hold political rallies again, beginning this weekend with an appearance in North Carolina.

Trump was one of the only Republican candidates to lose a high-profile competitive race in 2020. GOP candidates won the majority of close races across the country, in the U.S. Senate, in the U.S. House and in state legislatures and gubernatorial races.

Yet the party remains stuck with Trump as its standard bearer for the foreseeable future, due to his intense popularity with a vocal portion of the party. A substantial majority of Republicans also say they believe his claims that the election was stolen from him, according to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey, and he leads the rest of the hypothetical GOP field in some early polls for the party’s nomination in 2024.

But none of that means he is the GOP’s best representative against a Democrat. The 2020 election would suggest the opposite.

Supporters of former President Trump
Supporters of former President Donald Trump outside Trump Tower during a rare visit he made to his New York City offices on March 8. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

It’s true that Trump won just over 74 million votes last fall, but there were millions of American voters who vote Republican but who found him so odious that they voted for Joe Biden or didn’t vote for president at all. Those votes were a big reason why Biden got 82 million votes. In addition, Trump’s barrage of lies about the election became the focus of the January runoffs in Georgia that determined control of the U.S. Senate, which cost the GOP its Senate majority.

And now, those officials and operatives whose job it is to help the party win elections can only wait and watch, hoping Trump doesn’t use his rallies to continue insisting he won the 2020 election.

“I think it will be massive, and it ought to be in a good way, if Trump stays on message and has campaign discipline that he didn’t have before,” Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, told Yahoo News. “If he stays on message and talks about inflation and where the economy is, I think we should have a really good 2022.”

Dawson acknowledged that that one word, “if,” is carrying a lot of weight.

“Reliving history is not a good political strategy,” Dawson said.

Every Republican who spoke to Yahoo News was singing from the same song sheet, hoping Trump would get his base to vote for Republicans in Congress while eschewing talk of a rigged election last November, which could easily boomerang on the GOP and motivate Democrats to turn out.

“The midterm elections for the party out of power are usually a time to pick up seats and make gains. If Donald Trump turns these rallies into a referendum on the Democrats in Washington, and what an America First agenda has and can do to fuel our comeback, he could have a very positive impact on taking back the House and Senate,” said Michael Biundo, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign based in New Hampshire.

Donald Trump
Then-President Donald Trump at a rally in Milwaukee, Jan. 14, 2020. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Scott Reed, a veteran Republican campaign consultant, said that “the key to Trump’s rallies are for him to support and help nominate GOP candidates that can win in the fall of ’22.”

“Trump would also do well by talking more about the future, his many successes as president, and stop litigating the past election,” Reed said. “The GOP really needs to get back to adding voters and designing a conservative agenda versus the Biden tax-and-spend crowd.”

But there is no evidence from Trump’s past behavior to suggest he will be disciplined or try to help the party rather than himself, and reports this week indicate that the former president remains obsessed with the past election, and with the quixotic and unsuccessful effort by right-wing Arizona activists to find evidence of fraud there.

There have also been reports this week that Trump actually believes he is going to be reinstated as president this summer, an idea that — should it need to be stated — is completely bonkers.

Dawson, the former South Carolina GOP chair, said it might not matter to Trump whether Republicans retake the House and Senate majorities in the 2022 elections. Democrats currently have slim majorities in both chambers, but Trump has repeatedly indulged in a war of words with numerouscongressionalRepublicans since leaving office.

Dawson, however, is holding out hope. He said he has heard that Trump “possibly is not going after as many Republicans as he said in his vengeance, and possibly is going to focus on winning the House versus winning the hearts of his base supporters. He’s already got them.”

“I hope and pray that he will and move on and let’s talk about the next election,” Dawson said.

Bill Palatucci, one of New Jersey’s three Republican National Committee members, said that “it's important for the president to understand that his legacy is at issue here.”

Bill Palatucci
Bill Palatucci, a New Jersey member of the Republican National Committee. (Stacy Thacker/AP)

“Some of the accomplishments that he was able to win while in office, most importantly creating these vaccines that have proven to be so effective, all that gets obscured if all we’re trying to do is, quote unquote, ‘stop the steal.’”

Palatucci was an outspoken critic of Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, when Trump incited his supporters to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

But Palatucci said in an interview that “you gotta give the guy credit for his popularity with the base.”

“I don't deny that, and I don't deny that presents challenges for the party,” Palatucci said. “I’m simply hoping that he and the party can walk and chew gum, remain popular with a big part of the base and be constructive to the party in 2022.”

Palatucci, a close adviser to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also said that, in light of polling data and the results of recent special elections, he believes Trump is highly popular with only about 25 percent of the GOP.

“I question how much of a stranglehold he has,” he said.

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