Hutchinson, prior to his current role as governor of Arkansas, spent a handful of years compiling a conservative record in Congress before serving as the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under then-President George W. Bush.
Which makes what Hutchinson said on Sunday about Donald Trump and the 2022 midterm elections all the more noteworthy.
“Re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022,” Hutchinson told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “Let’s talk about the future. The election is past, it’s been certified, the states made decisions on the integrity of each of their elections and made improvements where it need be. It’s about the future, it’s not about the last election, and that — those kinds of comments are not constructive. We can win in 2022. And we’re going to, but let’s focus on the important issues of our supply chain, of getting over this pandemic, about freedom, and not the, not the last election.”
Hutchinson’s advice to his party comes even as Trump — by far the most popular figure in the GOP — continues to spend the vast majority of his time and energy pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him.
On Friday, for example, Trump released a long statement via his Save America PAC making a series of false claims about the status of the vote in Pima County, Arizona. “Either a new Election should immediately take place or the past Election should be decertified and the Republican candidate declared the winner,” Trump declared.
That came just days after Trump said this:
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
For many GOP strategists, that declaration brought up unwelcome memories of the January Senate runoffs in Georgia in which two leading lawyers for the former president urged Republican voters to protest the (nonexistent) 2020 voter fraud by withholding their votes in the Peach State races. Republicans lost both contests and, in so doing, lost the Senate majority.
What’s remarkable is that Hutchinson is one of the only prominent Republican voices willing to speak out on the utter idiocy of a this backward-looking strategy — especially when you consider the history around midterm elections.
Since World War II, the first midterm election of a presidential term has been almost universally bad for the party of the president. Recent history proves out that fact. Republicans lost 40 House seats — and the majority — in the 2018 midterms. Democrats lost 63 House seats — and their majority — in 2010.
Losses are compounded for the president’s party when his approval ratings is below 50% — as Joe Biden’s is right now. As of 2018, the president’s party averaged a 37-seat loss in the House when his approval rating was less than 50%, according to data compiled by Gallup. (For presidents with approval ratings over 50%, the average seat loss was 14.)
The reason is simple: Voter tend to use the first midterm vote as a referendum on the president. And almost always, that referendum is that they want more balance — aka more seats for the opposition party — in Congress.
Which makes Republicans’ job remarkably easy: Focus the 2022 election on Biden and, at least at present, the dissatisfaction about the job he is doing. Simple.
How might such an easy strategy be disrupted? Oh, maybe by having the leader of your party spending all of his time fighting about the last election rather than focused on the next one. And by no one in your party being willing — or able — to tell the former president that he needs to stop what he is doing because, while it may feel good for him to pursue his own personal flights of fancy, it is undeniably bad for the party that he claims to want to lead.
It’s possible that the history of midterms — and Biden’s approval rating problems — are powerful enough to overcome any hurdles that Trump continues to throw in the way of his party. But Hutchinson is right: Trump’s continued focus on the past is hurting his party’s chances in the future.