Republicans fret over Trump — but will the former president be dethroned?

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at Mar-a-lago on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republicans fret over Trump — but will the former president be dethroned?

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Even as top Republicans griped about Donald Trump’s leadership costing the GOP dearly in a third consecutive national election, it was unclear whether influential party figures would thank the former president for his service and show him the door.

Frustrated Republicans are blaming Trump for the predicted red wave that never materialized in Tuesday’s midterm elections. They argue the basket of lemons the former president endorsed in primaries in contested states is jeopardizing the GOP’s bid for Senate control. And they contend Trump depressed their gains in the House, distracting from the party’s focus on inflation and crime with his never-ending fixation on 2020 and claims the last election was stolen.

“It’s time for Trump to retire. I see golf courses and a rocking chair in his future,” Ohio Republican strategist David Myhal told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. “We appreciate the time he fought in the war against woke, but it will be finished by” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), elected in 2021 in a state President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points one year earlier.

“Clarifying #Election2022 results … Huge winner: [DeSantis],” tweeted Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent conservative activist in Iowa, host of the first contest on the Republican Party’s presidential nominating calendar. “Huge loser: Trump #Election2024.”

As Vander Plaats suggested, many conservatives are looking to DeSantis to lead the GOP beyond Trump — hopefully by seeking the White House in 2024. The governor won reelection in a landslide Tuesday by assembling a broad, diverse coalition that pulled down-ticket Republicans across the finish line. DeSantis fueled what was essentially a Florida-contained red wave, the sort conservatives expected elsewhere.

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But if past is prologue, don’t expect DeSantis, Scott, or Youngkin to hand Trump his walking papers any time soon.

The former president’s relationship with grassroots conservatives has been strong, surviving the Democratic wave he fueled in the 2018 midterm elections, his own defeat — and loss of the Senate majority he contributed to in 2020 — and the subsequent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after he refused to concede to now-President Joe Biden. Rebuking Trump for his role in the GOP’s disappointing 2022 election tempts a backlash from the GOP base.

DeSantis, Youngkin, and Scott, not to mention the several other Republicans eyeing a 2024 presidential bid, may prefer not to risk getting crosswise with Trump loyalists. With Trump set to announce a comeback presidential bid Tuesday from Mar-a-Lago, his residence and private social club in Palm Beach, Florida, the time is fast approaching for top Republicans to call for fresh leadership and a new direction for the party.

A number of Republican insiders say they expect some within the party to make the case for moving on from Trump, although how public, and led by whom, they aren’t certain. “Those conversations are inevitable,” a veteran Republican operative said, requesting anonymity to address the matter. Indeed, some wealthy Republican donors began urging the party to turn the page prior to the opening of the polls on Tuesday.

Jack Kingston, a Republican former congressman from Georgia, on friendly terms with Trump, said GOP figures like DeSantis, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and former Vice President Mike Pence are perfect candidates to lead such discussions. Why? All three have political standing in the party, and all three are either politically self-made or, because of circumstance, do not owe the former president any loyalty.

“People like Cruz and Pence and DeSantis can be involved now,” Kingston said. “The message is going to be: ‘You like [Trump’s] policies; I like [his] policies, but we’re talking about electability.” Kingston watched with dismay as Republican Herschel Walker, recruited into the Georgia Senate race by Trump, battled to a runoff with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) even as Gov. Brian Kemp (R) romped over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.

At mid-day, Wednesday, control of the Senate was still hanging in the balance.

The Democrats flipped Pennsylvania when Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) defeated Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz (R), giving them an opportunity to preserve their 50-seat majority. With Trump-endorsed Blake Masters on track to fall short in Arizona against Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Republican hopes now appear to rest on whether Adam Laxalt (R), the former Nevada attorney general, can hold his lead over Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

If Laxalt prevails, Republicans could capture the Senate by winning the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff.

In the House, Republicans were headed toward enough gains to claim the gavel from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But the final number was likely to be a major disappointment and a far cry from the 25 to 50 seats — tsunami-like numbers — some giddy Republican officials were predicting for the party amid Biden’s low job approval ratings and voter insecurity about skyrocketing inflation and rising crime, plus deep anxiety about the direction of the country.

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So, what happened? Republican strategists and data crunchers were still sifting through the wreckage to come up with answers. But it did not take them long to reach one conclusion in particular. “We have a Trump problem,” said a party operative intimately involved in House races. “The hangover from President Trump is going to take a lot more than a couple of Excedrin to get past.”

“We thought the elections would be a referendum on President Biden and Democrat congressional majorities by focusing on quality-of-life issues,” this Republican added. “But the Democrats successfully muddied the water by making Trump an issue up and down the ballot all over the country.”

Trump, naturally, denied any responsibility for the outcome in a post on Truth Social, the Twitter-like social media platform he founded.

Referring to wins by his endorsed candidates, he declared the 2022 midterm elections a success. “While in some ways yesterday’s election was somewhat disappointing, from my personal standpoint it was a very big victory — 219 WINS and losses in the General — Who has ever done better than that?”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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