WASHINGTON — As the Republican Party prepares for the 2024 presidential race, there is one big image in the rearview mirror that refuses to go away: the 2020 presidential election.
About a week ago, the Colorado Republican Party selected a 2020 election denier to lead the party for the next two years. That came weeks after Michigan Republicans selected a 2020 Denier to lead their party as well.
When a party loses a presidential election, it usually sorts through the rubble and figures out how to move on. However, the Republican Party has not done this after the 2020 election. A new paper by two Stanford University academics found that this has had consequences. The document argues that the refusal to go ahead has a real impact on the party in two important ways. First, attitude makes Republicans more likely to nominate election deniers in primaries. And two, if those election-denying candidates win their nominations, they are likely to face additional challenges in the general election.
The paper specifically compared the results of the 2022 primary and general elections for Republican candidates across the state who denied and did not deny the election, and found some concrete effects.
The paper found that Republicans who denied the election received, on average, about a 2-point raise in the primary compared to Republicans who did not deny the election, meaning they were more likely to win the nomination. But come the general election, election-denying Republicans performed 2.3 points worse, on average, than Republicans who say they held, correctly, that President Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020.
In 2022, you could see those dynamics at play in gubernatorial elections that included open Republican primaries in the nation’s most important political states: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Although President Biden won those states in 2020, in each of them Republicans chose a voter denier for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and, in November, each state that lost that candidate.
Depending on the race, those 2.3 points that election deniers underperformed in 2022 could have made all the difference.
In Michigan and Pennsylvania, it does not appear that the Republican candidates’ election-denying position was the deciding factor because the margins of defeat were so large. In those states, Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Josh Shapiro won by double digits, defeating Republican challengers Tudor Dixon and Doug Mastriano, respectively.
But in Arizona and Wisconsin, those 2.3 points could have been crucial. In Arizona, Democrat Katie Hobbs defeated Republican Kari Lake by less than one point. And in Wisconsin, Democratic incumbent Tony Evers defeated Republican Tim Michels by just over 3 points. If a handful of those voters turned Republican, Michels could have won.
To be clear, campaigns are complicated and often about more than one issue, even if that issue negates the reality of a previous election. Candidates matter. The individual political terrains in each state matter. Funding and donations matter. When candidates lose races by double digits, like in Michigan and Pennsylvania, there are many reasons for the loss.
But most races aren’t blowouts, particularly in battleground states. Consider the 2020 presidential race and the margins of victory in the states that ended up deciding the election: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
In all of those states, the margin of victory in the 2020 presidential race was less than 3 points, very narrow. So narrow, in fact, that shifting 2.3 percent of the vote (the net impact of nominating a voter-denier according to the analysis) from one candidate to another in any one of them would have changed the outcome in the states, and ultimately , national elections. account.
Of course, the newspaper’s effects were measured in a midterm year and the impact could be different if the candidate at the top of the ticket is at the center of the false 2020 election narrative. That could be the case if former President Donald Trump secures the 2024 nomination. But judging by the results, 2022 could certainly be seen as offering a cautionary note for the GOP.
In a sense, the data suggests that the Republican Party is trapped in a box of its own making. Candidates may pick up the false election-denying stories to buoy primary voters, but if the candidates win the nomination, those same stories appear to be detrimental to the larger voting public in the general election.
The broader lesson is familiar in political circles. Elections are generally about the future. Spending too much time looking in the rearview mirror, particularly when one is pushing false narratives, doesn’t seem like a way to build support.