LAWRENCEVILLE, Georgia – Former President Donald Trump’s false allegations about a stolen election have fueled anger among Republicans who have flocked to GOP locals in hopes of playing a bigger role in future elections.
Now some leaders of these grassroots groups say they and their members have turned the page – even though Trump himself has made it clear that he wants the issue to be front and center in future contests.
“People here have looked to the future,” Gwinnett County, Georgia, GOP member Hai Cao said in an interview.
Other members of the local Republican Party “don’t linger and talk about” 2020, “he added, because” we’re just going to lose an opportunity for future advancement – victories. “
Cao is not the only one thinking. In interviews with more than a dozen local GOP officials in four key presidential battlegrounds, most indicated they had moved on to arguments about 2020, a notable change from some of Trump’s most forceful supporters. during his second dismissal and his first year of absence. Office.
The desire to put last year’s election on hold indicates that among at least some Republicans new issues have started to take hold. Republicans stepped up attacks on President Joe Biden and other Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm, particularly around price hikes, the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, vaccination warrants and the ‘education. And while Trump remains popular, the new GOP figures leading these battles are garnering increased interest and attention.
Michele Woodhouse, president of the Republican Party in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, which includes 17 counties in the western part of the state, said she had started to notice a change in what was causing enthusiasm late August, when Biden began the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Woodhouse said that at the start of the year, anger over the loss of Trump prompted further local involvement in the GOP. Not so much more.
“There has been this uprising to say that we miss Biden’s policies miserably,” said Woodhouse, who is running for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 14th Congressional District. “And it’s been a very problem-oriented enthusiasm. I really think problems drive him.
The political calculation for leaders like Woodhouse is straightforward, as they want to harness the energy around issues like inflation and pandemic politics to help get voters to vote at the midpoint of an election without Trump on the ballot. vote. This is no different from the sentiments expressed by national party leaders, who have said they would rather focus their attention on Biden, his administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress as they strive to regain power in Washington.
The math was bolstered by Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s plan for success in Blue Virginia and the much closer-than-expected loss of Republicans in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Youngkin, without embracing or repudiating Trump, focused on educating and involving parents in schools, which seemed to resonate with GOP voters, as well as concerns about the economy.
Earlier this year, anger over the election stirred GOP locals in tangible ways. Branches across the country have passed censorship resolutions targeting just about every Republicans who crossed paths with Trump, especially members of Congress who voted to impeach or convict him for his role in the deadly January 6 riot. at the United States Capitol, when a crowd of pro Trump supporters attempted to disrupt the electoral vote count formalizing Biden’s electoral victory.
GOP groups at the local level saw a significant increase in the number of members who wanted to become constituency officials – in low-level positions that perform key election-related functions – as a result of the call for constituency officials. action by former Trump official Steve Bannon, according to a ProPublica report in September.
At the time, Lou Capozzi, who chairs the GOP chapter in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, which has seen significant growth in the number of people volunteering for party-affiliated electoral positions, told ProPublica: “Who knows what happened on polling day for real.
In a more recent interview with NBC News, Capozzi said, “I think a lot of people have moved on to last year.”
“We still have the best system in the world,” he said of the US electoral process. “And I think, as far as Republicans go, I think they’re just redoubling their efforts to try to make a difference and try to get Republicans elected.” From my perspective, I think most people have turned the page.
In Gwinnett County, local GOP chairman Sammy Baker sounded a similar tune.
“So we still have a few who are still upset” by the 2020 vote, said Baker, whose county party rejected censorship measures targeting Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger more early this year. “But for the most part, we’re getting over it.”
A significant portion of the right intends to continue advocating for 2020. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Republicans are fighting in court to advance election inquiries more than a year after the vote. Nineteen states have enacted election laws this year that Democrats and voting experts say make voting more difficult and, in some cases, make it easier to subvert an election. Polls also found that about two-thirds of Republicans believe the election was rigged, although no evidence was produced to validate the claims.
But there are also clear limits. Some Republicans in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia – swing states won by Biden that Trump has focused on – have strongly repelled largely unorthodox efforts to reconsider the 2020 vote, who fell flat or failed to get started in multiple jurisdictions. Earlier this month, Wisconsin State Senator Kathy Bernier, a Republican who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, called the partisan inquiry in her state a “charade.”
Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers, a Republican who is a leading far-right denier, circulated a letter calling for an audit of 50 states and decertification of votes. He was sign by less than 5 percent of all Republican state lawmakers.
Stuart Ulsh, an official in Fulton County, Pa. Who was the Republicans’ star witness in the state Senate election inquiry, said at a hearing in September that continue to investigate the results of the presidential election – which have already been certified and repeatedly confirmed – was “probably in the middle – I would put it to [number] five ”in terms of what mattered to his constituents.
And at a shareholders meeting last month, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, called on Trump to stop focusing on the past.
Jeff Piccola, president of the York County Republican Branch in Pennsylvania, said, “It is almost impossible to resurrect at this point if the election has been materially affected by fraud. I don’t think you can. I don’t even know what an audit is. For me, it’s a recount.
Piccola’s chapter censored Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., After voting to condemn Trump for inciting insurgency. But “from my point of view, as party chairman, I don’t want to go back and resuscitate this,” he added. “I want to go ahead [and] actively involve people.
Ian Bassin, co-founder and executive director of Protect Democracy, a non-profit democracy and voting rights group, said real change among GOP locals would be “a really important development” in efforts to stop and reverse what he called “a democratic death spiral”.
“There has been a vicious cycle created on the American right, where the grassroots are made to believe a lie and demand undemocratic action in response,” said Bassin, who worked in the Obama administration.
He added that such a grassroots change could give leaders “a little more room to do the same.”
What this means for Trump remains unclear. While some Republicans are ready to move on from 2020, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are distancing themselves from Trump himself – although his reduced presence on the national stage opens them up to other flag bearers. potentials, like Florida Governor Ron. DeSantis, who broadened his profile fighting the Biden administration against the pandemic and education.
If Trump announced a presidential candidacy, he would most likely put debate at the forefront of GOP discussions. But his insistence on looking back has allowed others to fill the void on forward-looking issues.
As it stands, polls show Trump has a significant lead in a 2024 primary, with around half of GOP voters saying they would definitely vote for him. Without Trump on the ballotAmong those with the most support, DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are.
Local Republican officials interviewed were split between those who thought Trump was in the best position to move the party forward and those who were more drawn to DeSantis, Pence and others, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dakota Gov. South Kristi Noem.
“There are good people out there, but until Trump walks away those good people are going to stand to the side,” said Charles Yost, York County GOP member, adding that he would like to see Pence. to run.
When asked who is best placed to lead the Republican Party in the future, Tom Powers, GOP chairman in Broward County, Fla., Said, “This is the simplest question in the world. .
“We have a governor who is a rock star. It has an economy in the state that everyone is envious of. He defends the voter, ”he said of DeSantis. “He’s obviously the biggest.
In North Carolina, Woodhouse said, “Obviously everyone is waiting to see if President Trump shows up again. “
“You know, of course Florida is very close to us,” she said. “I think a lot of people here are very strong, like me, [on] Ron DeSantis. What he’s doing in Florida is a great role model.