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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Shake the Etch A Sketch

by John Brummett | September 22, 2022 at 3:09 a.m.

Speaking of the heartwarming loss of influence of Donald Trump ...

It's not that I'm obsessed. It's simply that the aforementioned monstrosity provides the right starting point for assessing the latest political movement.

It was Richard Nixon who said a Republican runs to the right in a primary and then pivots to the center in the general election. Democrats do the inverse.

And it was Mitt Romney who dismissed something he'd said in a Republican presidential primary by explaining that what he'd said was no big deal. He said he would shake the Etch A Sketch upon getting the nomination.

You remember the Etch A Sketch. You would turn knobs to draw on the screen, then shake the screen to clear those images forever and draw anew as if never having drawn before.

This two-step was all so matter-of-fact, more obvious than candid.

Generally speaking, then, the modulated or even contradicting things candidates have said in general-election campaigns have been more acceptable and believable to a majority of the American people, and necessary for victory. There was comfort in that for the sane among us.

But I had begun to wonder if it was still at all so.

Indeed, it's not much so in Arkansas where Democrats are pervasively hated. And our national political demonization has become so intense that a post-primary move to the center to appeal to swing voters might, in some jurisdictions, lose as many or more base voters, who simply won't tolerate difference.

That's why I cheered the tire-screeching, rubber-burning U-turn made at full-speed last week by the new Republican U.S. Senate nominee in New Hampshire two days after he got the nomination.

A U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire is not a precise or viable microcosm of a nationwide election. But there is gratification to be taken amid the comedy of retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc.

The general ran in the primary as the Trumper's Trumper. He swore the presidential nomination was stolen from Trump.

But New Hampshire contains a substantial sane GOP community. It's represented by the president of the state Senate, who was Bolduc's primary opponent and endorsed in that endeavor by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, kind of an Asa Hutchinson-style establishment pragmatist.

Bolduc won the primary Tuesday of last week and national Republican experts went instantly into a funk. They saw no way this election-denier could produce a coveted GOP gain by defeating first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, otherwise thought to be vulnerable.

True to form, the first post-primary poll showed her ahead by 11 points.

Then, on Thursday, two days after his big primary victory based on his Trumpian bona fides, the general announced that, you know, after talking to people during the campaign and doing some research, he now accepted that, while there were fraudulent activities, no doubt, Joe Biden won the election fair and square and was the legitimately installed president of the United States.

He'd probably talked to most of those voters by two days before the primary. Surely not all his research had occurred over four days around his great victory. But, you know, he won the primary only narrowly, by several hundred votes. He dared not tell the truth on the Sunday before the Tuesday primary. Instead he would shake the Etch A Sketch on the Thursday after.

He couldn't win sticking with that primary message. He probably can't win abandoning it. But he may as well try the only option available to him.

This all ties in with the fact that the new NBC poll showed Trump's approval rating down to 34 percent and the disapproval rating up to 54.

It is not just the election lie. It's running off with classified documents and then not being forthcoming about it. It is lingering damage caused by anything short-memory swing voters recall from the work of Liz Cheney's committee.

It is swing-voter fatigue with all this wild drama.

It's apparently not so much about abortion, at least in New Hampshire, where the general simply tells Hassan to "get over" her outrage. It may be that abortion opinions aren't changed, but intensified, meaning the story is not transparent candidate re-positioning but voter motivation and turnout.

Finally, as they say, even in Arkansas, where Sarah Sanders' position is that we'll probably just never know who won the 2020 presidential election ...

The Hendrix-Talk Business poll shows Trump's approval rating in the state down to 48 while Joe Biden's disapproval rating is at 62.

Whereas Sanders initially was all about hip-joining with Trump, she now enters the stretch run needing to make like Ron DeSantis and vow to ship refugees from the border to Biden's house lest they wander in to Arkansas.

I'd propose a drinking game by which one group of players would take shots when a Sanders' commercial praised Trump and the other group would take shots when her commercials blasted Biden.

But I fear drunken comas on the Biden-mention side, even as the Trump-mention drinkers got only a little tight.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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