The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump kind of admits he might have cost Republicans the Senate

And despite his threatening to do it again by pressing forward with the Big Lie and discouraging Republicans from voting, the GOP is characteristically silent

Former president Donald Trump speaks at a rally last month in Perry, Ga. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

When Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said this week that he wouldn’t support Donald Trump for president in 2024, he noted that Trump has a rather dubious distinction. “President Trump is the first president [on] the Republican side at least to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in four years,” Cassidy told Axios. “Elections are about winning.”

This is correct. When the Georgia Senate runoffs looked like they would hand Senate control to Democrats in January, we reported that Trump was in line to become the first president since 1932 to lose the House, Senate and reelection all in a single term.

Then it happened — with a potential assist from Trump himself. Consumed with a desperate and ill-fated effort to overturn his loss, Trump continued to press his bogus stolen-election claim even as some of his party’s leaders worried it would depress GOP turnout in Georgia.

Whether it was ultimately a decisive factor is difficult to say. But there’s plenty of evidence it might have been, including: how close the GOP losses were, how turnout lagged especially in more-conservative areas of the state, how the GOP actually lost ground in the runoffs despite usually overperforming in them, and how much polls showed Republicans said the 2020 election made them less likely to vote.

And in a newly published interview, Trump kinda, sorta cops to the role he played in losing the Senate.

“They didn’t want to vote,” Trump says in a new book by the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker, “because they knew we got screwed in the presidential election.”

Given that there is no actual evidence that Trump was cheated in the election, this is effectively Trump’s saying that the falsehood that he pushed so hard did, indeed, depress Republican turnout.

Drucker went on to ask Trump what might have happened if he had offered a different message: that despite supposed irregularities, they could trust Georgia election officials to count their votes on Jan. 5.

“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I did two rallies — very successful rallies. I did say a version of that, but not as strongly as you said, because I was angry with what happened there.”

Translation: I could have done more to help, but I didn’t because I was upset.

The timing of Drucker’s book is fortuitous. Just last week, Trump suggestively said Republicans might not vote in future elections if GOP leaders don’t rectify the supposed wrongs of the 2020 election. It was as much a threat as anything, but it also reinforced that Trump is going to keep talking about this in ways that could very logically depress turnout again.

And despite the lessons of Georgia, Trump’s continued electoral-fraud crusade and comment about Republicans boycotting elections have been met with a rather striking and deafening silence in his party. There has been private grumbling about it, as the New York Times reported, and some GOP strategists are throwing up cautions. (“Republicans should have learned this lesson after the Georgia debacle,” said longtime GOP consultant Scott Reed.) But apart from that and assurances from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), of all people, that Republicans still should vote, virtually no one is offering counterprogramming.

The silence underscores the reason that Trump’s claims have caught on in the GOP: Republicans are almost completely unwilling to call out his wild claims of voter fraud — even when they threaten the party’s prospects.

They do so from a standpoint of haplessness and self-preservation. If you look closely at how some Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), talk about their party’s relationship with Trump, you see that they stress that a major factor in going along with what Trump says is their fear of what happens if they don’t. It is almost akin to a hostage situation.

“He could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know can make it,” Graham said in another interview with Axios earlier this year. “He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it.”

When Jonathan Swan suggested that Graham was going along with Trump “so he doesn’t go off and form a third party,” Graham didn’t dispute the premise.

“A third party would be a disaster,” Graham said.

Graham has said this at other times, as well. Yes, he says he likes what Trump did, but the former vociferous Trump critic also has repeatedly acknowledged that alienating Trump comes with a political cost for himself and the party. And he’s not alone. Prominent Republicans have repeatedly made a pragmatic case for abiding by Trump’s vision for the party by noting how devoted the base is to him and how distancing themselves from him would splinter the party.

Those aren’t the things you say if you truly believe this is about principled support; they’re what you say when you’re trying to justify your willingness to go along with something you see as objectionable.

That Republicans continue to stand by Trump even as he might have cost them the Senate in January is testament to that rationalization. But, now we have evidence that Trump not only acknowledges the harm he might have caused in Georgia, but also is pressing forward with potentially doing it again in 2022. And Republicans can’t be bothered to do much about it.

If there’s anything that epitomizes how Republicans have chosen to let Trump’s baseless and routinely debunked stolen-election claims metastasize within the party, surely that has to be it. They have allowed the situation to get out of hand because they worry what would happen if they tried to stop it — what would happen to them individually, it bears emphasizing, rather than to democracy.

But now they are staring down the barrel of Trump’s potentially and knowingly helping them to lose future elections — and adding to the historic trio of losses already attached to his name. They have made their bed, though, and they apparently are going to continue lying in it.