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Opinion: Is the 2022 election about 2020, or are we ready to look ahead?

With the upcoming Republican primaries, Utah’s Republican candidates are looking good — if they can avoid discussing 2020

SHARE Opinion: Is the 2022 election about 2020, or are we ready to look ahead?
Supports of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump attend protests after Election Day 2020 in Salt Lake City.

Supports of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump attend protests after Election Day 2020 on the steps of the Capitol in Salt Lake City. Republican politicians who are still touting messages about voter fraud in 2020 may want to drop that message and move on.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Key primary elections are occurring in states across the country. Candidates and political parties are rolling out strategies and messaging. Maneuvering is also beginning for the 2024 presidential election. Because Utah doesn’t exist in a political vacuum, we take a look at the national political intrigue and what it means for our state.

Former President Donald Trump and some of the candidates he has endorsed are spending much of their energy arguing about the 2020 election, claiming the election was stolen from Trump. Is this a winning political strategy in 2022?

Pignanelli: “Mr. Trump has real influence but it is not determinative.”— Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal  

Many polls reveal at least 75% of Americans believe the country is “on the wrong track”. This is a kind description of their anger — and who can blame them? Inflation is roaring at a 40-year high, which is only exceeded by the crime rate. National politicians initially dismissed the cost of living as “transitory” and now admit a problem without providing solutions. Congress seems more focused on holding hearings to attack Big Tech while expanding social programs, including student loan forgiveness. Immigration remains a mess. The fiasco in Afghanistan still smarts. Now millions must worry whether their infant will have enough to eat — an outrageous crisis caused by a clueless Food and Drug Administration and a sleepy administration.

Little is expected of a Republican candidate to assure victory in November — just point to President Joe Biden and do not say anything stupid.

However, to “not say anything stupid” includes omitting references to the 2020 election or making accusations that the upcoming balloting is corrupt. Americans do not want to hear this tirade because the topic demonstrates a lack of concern for the everyday difficulties they are now facing.

Once again, “message discipline” will determine success in the November elections.

Webb: Given the weakness of the Biden administration and the Democrats, Republicans should be poised for historic wins in 2022. It could be a real realignment of politics in this country. The only thing that could derail a monumental victory for conservatives is Trump and his damaging fixation on 2020 and his selfish demand that all his supporters follow him like lemmings in this political nonsense.

It’s true that Trump was badly mistreated by Democrats and most of the news media during his 2016 campaign and in his presidency. He generally put forth good policy (except immigration) and the nation blossomed economically under his leadership. So Trump should focus on those things and the Democrats’ many failings instead of continually harping on the 2020 election. It’s over. Sensible people are sick of hearing about it. 

The tragedy of Trump, as I’ve written previously, is that he could be a major benefit for Republicans up and down the ticket, in all states, if he would play the role of senior statesman, promote mainstream conservative causes, bring the party together, endorse reasonable candidates and stop being self-serving.

But, alas for Republicans, Trump is Trump. No sensible GOP candidate wants the 2022 election to be about 2020.

Still for Democrats, they’re in such bad shape that even Trump dragging down some GOP candidates probably won’t save them.   

The U.S. faces the prospect of having two rather old men — Biden and Trump — square off once again to become president of the United States and the leader of the free world. Is this the best our country can do?

Pignanelli: In addition to the multitude of issues plaguing the country, Biden is unable to inspire confidence when speaking. This is not a new struggle for the president, although age has increased his discombobulated speech. Biden was nominated and elected because he was perceived a moderate (bending to progressives’ demands has confused that advantage).

Trump succeeded because he tapped into a massive national frustration with the establishment, which remains his singular value.

Currently, there are no other well-known moderate Democrat or anti-establishment Republican politicians willing to challenge the progressives or Trumpistas. Hopefully, the fallout from the 2022 midterm elections creates opportunities for new faces, otherwise expect a return of the Methuselahs.

Webb: If the choice is between Biden and Trump, then shame on us. I’m an old guy myself, but I can’t think of a more depressing presidential race than these two old has-beens calling each other names for a year. It’s time for a new generation of leaders. Both parties have plenty of younger, fresher and smarter candidates than Trump and Biden. On the GOP side, I can think of a dozen excellent candidates who are just as conservative as Trump, who would govern much as Trump did, but without Trump’s toxic personality and character baggage.

What do these national political developments mean for Utah candidates and issues?

Pignanelli: Utahns do not believe the 2020 elections were stolen. So if Republican contenders ignore the topic, they can ride the wave. Otherwise, they risk a surprise.

Webb: We can be glad a majority of Utahns are sensible, mainstream Republicans and Democrats. But GOP candidates must carefully navigate the Trump nonsense or risk alienating his base. If you want to see a GOP candidate squirm, just ask if the 2020 election was stolen.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired 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.