Steve Scalise won't say that the election wasn't stolen

Scalise has one of the best and worst jobs in Washington in that he’s a member of the House Republican leadership in the Trump era. That gives him a great deal of power, which will only increase if/when the GOP wins back the House next fall. Scalise might end up as Speaker of the House someday or a U.S. senator from Louisiana if Bill Cassidy decides he can’t overcome his vote to convict Trump at his impeachment trial in a Republican Senate primary.

That’s the good news for Scalise. The bad news? Every House Republican in the country now holds his or her seat at Trump’s sufferance. If Scalise were to give the “wrong” answer to a question on a matter as prickly to Trump’s bruised ego as whether the election was stolen, his career could end overnight. He’s had a front-row seat for Liz Cheney’s journey from rising Republican leader to backbencher to soon being washed up in politics. He knows what he can and can’t say when asked if Trump was cheated.

All Republican candidates next year will be forced to find their own way forward on this topic. A hardcore few, like Majorie Taylor Greene, will assert that Trump was flatly robbed. A hardcore few on the other end of the spectrum, like Cheney, will insist that Biden won. The great muddled middle will try to wriggle out of it by talking in circles, as Scalise does here. He won’t endorse any of the outlandish conspiracy theories about vote-rigging since that would spook the normie swing voters whom the GOP will court next fall. But harping on the fact that some states changed their procedures for the election is his way of signaling that the outcome wasn’t legitimate even if he doesn’t think Xi Jinping was playing with the vote totals from his bedroom in Beijing.

You know who does think Xi Jinping was playing with the vote totals, incidentally? Trump, if Jonathan Karl’s new book is to be believed. Allegedly Jeffrey Clark approached him after the election with an insane theory about Google’s Nest thermometers, which are manufactured in China, somehow changing votes for Trump to votes for Biden in Georgia on election night. Trump was reportedly “intrigued” and asked DNI John Ratcliffe to look into it. If Karl is right, there’s no explanation for his defeat that’s so ludicrous that he won’t entertain it in the name of shielding himself from the embarrassment of having lost.

Cheney saw Scalise’s comment and called him on it, of course:

Over the weekend I posted a Bill Maher commentary in which he laid out a scenario for what might happen in 2024 after Republican leaders spend the next three years reinforcing the bogus orthodoxy that 2020 was illegitimate, as Scalise did yesterday. One point I made in that post was that “stop the steal” is no longer a purely top-down phenomenon spearheaded by Trump. As it becomes conventional wisdom among righties that Democrats could only have won by cheating, it’ll be conventional wisdom in 2024 if they win again that that could only have been by cheating too. Even if Trump isn’t the nominee and ringleading the effort, it’s conceivable that Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states narrowly won by the Democratic nominee will take it upon themselves under pressure from the base to send an alternate slate of electors to Washington. Especially since a GOP-controlled House would be empowered to decide the election if the certification process deadlocks next time.

Trump held a rally in Iowa on Saturday in which, as usual, he cheerled the “stolen election” beliefs of the crowd. That wasn’t the notable part of the rally, Politico wrote afterward. What was notable were all of the “mainstream” establishment Republicans in attendance who felt no compunction about associating themselves with Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign nine months after he was impeached a second time for what that campaign led to.

Appearing alongside the former president was a who’s who of influential Republicans in the Hawkeye state, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann.

Trump has held rallies since leaving the White House. But never have elected Republicans of such tenure and stature appeared with him. And the presence of Grassley in particular signified that whatever qualms the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; whatever questions they had about the direction of the party have been resolved…

“Here’s the difference. Hillary [Clinton] conceded. I never conceded. No reason to concede,” Trump said to a cheering crowd.

Grassley is 88 years old, has spent 40 years in the Senate, and rightly excoriated Trump after his second trial for lying about the election being rigged. But because he can’t wean himself off his addiction to power even as he approaches 90, he’s running for office again and recognizes that he can’t win without Trump’s support. (“If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart,” he said over the weekend.) Rather than retire with dignity, he’s chosen to accommodate “stop the steal” in exchange for another term. Traditional politicians like him who are slaves to their own ambition bear more responsibility for what the GOP has become than Trump himself does. Trump rose to power insisting that the GOP establishment sucks and he’s proven right about it anew by his many establishment flunkies every day.

One of Maher’s points in his monologue was that Trump didn’t have the personnel in place at the state level to carry out his attempt to overturn the election last fall but that he’s been working on fixing that, which is why the next coup stands a better chance of succeeding. A small example from just this morning:

“Stop the steal” may be a litmus test of such gravity by 2024 that Republican presidential hopefuls who were even the slightest bit hesitant in 2020 about it may be DOA. I read David Drucker’s report this morning on how Tom Cotton helped turn the tide among Senate Republicans against decertifying the election on January 6 after Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz announced they would object to the results in some states. McConnell knew that if all of the populists in the caucus lined up behind decertifying, it would put tremendous pressure on the establishmentarians to go along and suddenly we might have a party-line vote in both chambers. Cotton has some populist cred and rode to the rescue by issuing a statement that tactfully opposed decertification on procedural grounds: “[T]he Founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states—not Congress. They entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the Electoral College—not Congress.” The rebellion in the Senate began to cool after that. “Two senior members of McConnell’s leadership team, Thune and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, emphasized that the whole thing would have gotten completely out of hand if not for the stand taken by Cotton,” Drucker reported.

That was a brave and patriotic act on Cotton’s part. Are his national ambitions finished because of it? Can he survive his next Senate primary if Trump decides to make an issue of it?

I’ll leave you with this, another way in which the virtue of “stop the steal” is being reinforced. Trump has begun treating the January 6 rioters as victims rather than aggressors. As other have noted, Ashli Babbitt wouldn’t have been at the Capitol in the first place if the president hadn’t spent two months falsely assuring her that democracy was being subverted because he couldn’t cope with the reality of losing.