If history is a guide, Republican congressional candidates should do very well in the 2022 midterm elections and probably win control of Congress. However, one colossal wild card will play out in this election — Donald Trump and his continued claims of massive voter fraud. The Trump factor will influence — for better or worse — both primary and general election outcomes in many races. We look at the Trump impact in Utah and nationally.

Sen. Mike Lee and four Utah House members — all Republicans — are all up for reelection next year. Will they cozy up to Trump, or try to keep him at arms length? Also, Trump is making election fraud a litmus test for his favored candidates. How will Utah GOP candidates respond?

Pignanelli: “A Republican candidate can maintain some distance but certainly can’t frontily challenge Donald Trump.” — Rich Lowry, National Review

Many neighborhoods are beset with an ever-present gossip. Despite objections to the tactics used by these gadflies, few openly challenge them out of fear of being the next target. Utah’s GOP has made a similar pragmatic cost-benefit analysis — aggravating the political yenta Trump and his supporters is not worth the resulting pain.

Trump is not overwhelmingly popular in Utah; President Joe Biden, less so. Thus, smart candidates will shout love of Trump’s policies — especially against the overreach of the current administration — while softening any support of the man.

The new book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa adds a new element into election discussions. They write that Lee intensely investigated Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, and eventually voted to certify the election results. Lee’s undisputed reputation as a constitutional expert now offers a shield to those who also agreed to certification. 

The 2022 elections will be a true test of political acumen, keeping the busybody satisfied to avoid an attack, but also dodging perceptions of over chumminess.

Webb: Trump is making life difficult for Republican candidates across the country. Even people (like me) who voted for him and liked a lot of his policies think his brazen assertions that the 2020 election was stolen from him are absurd. By refusing to get over his loss, and demanding that GOP candidates agree with him, he’s damaging GOP chances in many races.

Trump’s fixations aren’t about policy, or what’s best for the country. Trump is, unfortunately, all about Trump. As I’ve written many times, the tragedy of Trump is that while he was smart and governed well in many respects, his deep personal flaws and toxic ego were his undoing.

Still, Trump has a magnetic hold on a diminishing, but still significant, base of the party. Republicans need him to energize the base, but they can’t win with him out front because he is so poisonous to moderates and independents.

The danger for moderates like congressmen Blake Moore or John Curtis is if a reporter asks if they believe the election was stolen from Trump, and they answer, honestly, that it wasn’t, then Trump may turn the GOP base against them.

They can probably still win in heavily Republican Utah, even if they alienate a share of hardcore Trump loyalists. But Trump makes things more difficult, especially if we end up with a true swing district as a result of redistricting. 

Nationally, Trump is becoming more aggressive in endorsing and opposing Republican candidates, and he is speaking out on many issues. Overall, will the Trump factor help or hurt Republican chances to win back control of Congress?

Pignanelli: A handful in the House and one in the Senate is the minimum for the GOP to capture control. Yet in many of these swing areas Trump’s influence is mixed. While voters still retain some fatigue from his presidential antics, Trump is the absolute face of opposition to the Biden administration. Republican tacticians must be extraordinarily disciplined and strategic in using this weapon wisely to protect their advantage as the election season ramps up in a few months. Too much or too little will cost them.

Webb: Trump could be a big help to all GOP candidates if he would encourage the base to vote, criticize Democrats all he wants, but stay out of primary battles and not demand personal fealty. But he is incapable of such altruism and thus will be a net drag on the party.

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Is Trump gearing up to run for president in 2024?

Pignanelli: Trump is an extremely shrewd player. By consistently vocalizing the objections to the Biden administration, he is dominating the presidential contender field. Trump wants to make his position as strong as possible as he decides to pull the trigger in late 2023. But there are number of external factors, including economy, his legal issues and others which are just too remote to predict at this time.

Webb: I think Trump is running, but I hope I’m dead wrong. Even as disastrous as the Biden administration has been (and will continue to be), Trump can’t win. But he can win the GOP nomination and doom the party to another presidential loss.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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