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Bill Clinton used to say that all elections are about the future. It’s true. Voters want to know what candidates will do in office — how they will fix problems — and if they can be trusted to handle the unexpected developments the future brings.
But now, in Washington, we have significant elements of both major parties obsessed with the past. One party wants to make the upcoming midterm elections about the 2020 presidential election, and the other party wants to make the elections about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. It’s a crazy situation.
Start with the Democrats, the party currently in power. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer have chosen to make Jan. 6 the foundation for the party’s drive to federalize elections, which is at the moment the Democrats’ top priority. Because of Jan. 6, Schumer has argued, Democrats should pass far-reaching bills to federalize elections on terms favorable to Democrats.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Jan. 6 committee is clearly obsessed with going after former President Donald Trump. Along with Pelosi-appointed Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, committee Democrats are seeking some way either to charge Trump criminally for Jan. 6 or come up with a legal maneuver to bar Trump from running for president again in 2024.
Some in the party see a Jan. 6 fixation as a sure way not to win elections. Reacting to a McClatchy News focus group about Jan. 6, in which the riot was clearly not the top concern of participants, Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist and a top adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted, “The chasm between what is discussed in Washington and on cable news continues to grow. January 6th is not and has never been a top issue for voters. It will be even more insignificant come November.”
It’s sound advice. Just don’t tell it to Democratic Party leaders.
And then there is Trump, and the Republicans who follow him. Recently GOP Sen. Mike Rounds said that Trump, whatever his complaints about cheating, simply lost the 2020 election. “We looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds told ABC News. “While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state. The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election.”
As expected, Trump went ballistic. Releasing a statement calling Rounds a “RINO” (short for “Republican in Name Only”), Trump added, “Is he crazy or just plain stupid?”
“The numbers are conclusive,” Trump continued, “and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive. The only reason [Rounds] did this is because he got my endorsement and easily won his state in 2020, so now he thinks he has time, and those are the only ones, the weak, who will break away. Even though his election will not be coming up for five years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”
Later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election, and I agree with him.” Trump, of course, has called McConnell a “RINO” many times.
Later, in an interview with National Public Radio, Trump made it clear he wants to see 2022 Republican candidates talking about the 2020 election. NPR’s Steve Inskeep asked Trump, “Is it a disadvantage for Republicans to keep talking about the 2020 election in 2022?”
“No, I think it’s an advantage,” Trump answered. “Because otherwise, they’re going to do it again in ‘22 and ‘24. And Rounds is wrong on that, totally wrong. If you look at the numbers, if you look at the findings in Arizona, if you look at what’s going on in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, by the way — and take a look at Wisconsin — they’re finding things that nobody thought possible. This was a corrupt election.”
When Inskeep asked Trump why Republican officials in Arizona accepted the results of the election, as confirmed by the Maricopa County audit, Trump answered: “Because they’re RINOs.”
The midterm elections are 10 months away. Inflation is raging at the fastest pace in 40 years. The COVID pandemic is also raging, with an administration that seems at a loss for what to do. Biden has created a terrible mess on the U.S.-Mexico border. He created a terrible mess with his mishandling of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. On topic after topic, the nation’s oldest president — he will turn 80 later this year — does not seem up to the job.
So there is a lot to talk about in the coming campaign. Many big and important things are happening right here, right now. Time is moving on. It always does. And yet some top leaders in both parties appear to be looking backward. It won’t work. When November comes, voters will reward those candidates who are looking forward.