Donald Trump's Forlorn Scrutiny of 2020 Election Could Lead to GOP Sorrow in 2022

Former President Donald Trump won't move on from his 2020 defeat to President Joe Biden—and this focus on the past could hurt the Republican Party's electoral chances in the future.

There is so far no evidence presented to suggest electoral fraud or irregularities on a scale that could have changed the outcome. However, Trump and his supporters keep pushing for repeated examinations of the ballots.

A controversial audit of votes is taking place in Arizona's Maricopa County at the behest of state Republicans, an effort Trump strongly supports. Trump has touted that there are "more to follow" and his allies have hinted the same.

In a recent statement, Trump bemoaned Republican leaders for not "doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election."

While this ongoing Trump-led anger could rally those within the GOP who remain aligned with him, his continued and relentless 2020 focus also brings risks to the GOP at the next election.

"The Republican party is heading into the midterms with a new loyalty test that members must pass: To stay in good standing in the party, they need to lie and say that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election," Brian Klaas, associate professor in global politics at University College London, told Newsweek. "That creates two electoral risks for the party."

The first, Klass said, is that Republican lawmakers who tell the truth about the 2020 election are more vulnerable to primary challenges from those who endorse Trump's baseless claims, which will "drive the party further right."

"As the party continues to lurch toward greater extremism and conspiracy theory peddling, it could close off some winnable swing seats for the party as the candidates selected in primaries are too extreme for their districts," Klass said.

A second substantial risk is that some of those most devoted to Trump may call for boycotts of electoral contests they perceive as rigged.

"Few will likely heed those calls, but even marginal boycotts—of, say, a percentage or two of the Republican base—could have a profound impact on closely contested elections," Klass said.

The political scientist concluded that the approach to Trump's claims within the GOP could lead to the party limiting its appeal.

"The real problem, though, is that the GOP has established a dynamic in which party members who tell the truth (and say that Biden won) are punished while those who lie (and say that Trump won) are rewarded," Klaas said.

"That's a recipe for electoral extremism, and it's one that could continue to solidify a shrinking Republican base that excites the diehards, but alienates everyone else."

William Howell, a professor in politics at the University of Chicago and chair of its department of political science, told Newsweek he expects the continued discussion over 2020's validity to have a range of political repercussions.

One could be a hardening of beliefs for some Republicans, while others may become disengaged from politics. "I expect this narrative to have multiple effects, not just one—and that some of these effects will push in opposite directions," Howell said,

"The narrative will lead some Republicans to withdraw from politics under the belief that everything is rigged (and rigged against them).

"Other Republicans, meanwhile, will view this narrative as additional reason to remain engaged in a fight for the future of our country.

"The lies and falsehoods that undergird this narrative, meanwhile, will likely increase overall turnout among Democrats, who view the Republican Party's descent into populist demagoguery with a mix of horror and alarm."

The net impact on the 2022 or 2024 elections is hard to assess this far out, Howell said, though he added that "the one clear beneficiary of its perpetuation is Donald Trump himself."

"For as long as significant portions of the Republican base buy into it, Trump's influence over the party is assured," Howell said.

David Andersen, assistant professor in U.S. politics at Durham University, told Newsweek he thinks the continued contesting of 2020 could motivate Democratic voters.

"It might continue to enrage Democratic supporters, mobilizing them to turn out in 2022," Andersen said.

"By 2022 the Democrats will have to transition from running on their policy ideas (which they should have passed by then) and will have to focus on painting the Republican Party as obstructionists or dangers to America if allowed back into power.

"The continued focus on 2020 election fraud (or lack thereof) might help that."

Andersen suggested the GOP "has become a reality TV show that fights against some unseen enemy on a daily basis."

"They have a core fan-base that they are desperate to keep tuning in for more but they are running out of plot ideas," he said.

"The stories they keep telling, like that the 2020 election was stolen, run the risk of alienating potential supporters and mobilizing opponents, which is going to make it harder for the GOP to grow.

"With TV shows, when this happens they try to re-excite the audience by making the enemies bigger, badder and often a betrayal of what we thought was a valued ally.

"I am sure the GOP will continue pushing for recounts across the U.S., will 'discover' fraud, and then will contest any surprising losses in 2022 in a similar way."

Richard Johnson, a lecturer in U.S politics and policy at Queen Mary University of London, told Newsweek he also believes the push against 2020 results could suppress the GOP vote in future elections.

"I'm not sure that running down faith in the voting system is good politics for Republicans long-term," Johnson said.

"If people think that their vote is not going to count (because 'corrupt' officials will throw them out, or whatever the conspiracy of the day is), why would they bother casting their ballot?"

Johnson suggested this lack of faith might have been one contributing factor in Republican defeats in Georgia's Senate runoffs.

In 2022, 34 Senate seats will be up for election as will every seat in the House of Representatives.

Trump says he is focused on helping the GOP in these elections, and so he will likely postpone his 2024 decision until after the votes.

But Trump has also said he would back primary challengers more aligned to his views, and heavily criticized current lawmakers who have opposed him.

Trump's delay in confirming his intentions for the 2024 presidential election cements his influence over the party, as Newsweek previously reported.

Newsweek has contacted the Republican National Committee and the office of the former president for comment.

donald trump leaves Trump Tower
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on May 18, 2021 in New York City. He continues to question 2020 election results, which poses potential issues for the Republican Party in future elections. James Devaney/GC Images