Republicans were supposed to crush Democrats across the country in last Tuesday’s elections. The way former President Donald Trump told it, his endorsed candidates would lead the way. They were his supporting cast, the warm-up act to his triumphant announcement that he was again running for the presidency and was the clear leader of a resurgent GOP.
Instead, Republicans are barely recapturing the House despite a strong wind at their backs, they failed to reclaim the Senate, and Trump’s candidates were the worst performers on a lamentably weak Election Day for the red party.
In the House, Trump-endorsed Bo Hines lost an easy North Carolina House seat 51% to 49%. In Washington state, Joe Kent, the Republican whom Trump backed to defeat incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, failed by the same margin.
In the Senate, Trump candidate Don Bolduc lost an otherwise winnable race in New Hampshire to the unpopular Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan by a whopping 10 points while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was winning by 25. In Georgia, Trump nominee Herschel Walker finished second and heads to a dicey-looking runoff, even though Republican Gov. Brian Kemp won 53% to 46% the same day.
In Arizona, Trump intervened to nominate arguably the weakest of all the Republican nominees for Senate, who, of course, went on to lose. So did Trump’s hand-picked gubernatorial candidate in the state, Kari Lake, in whose favor Trump forced conservative former Rep. Matt Salmon out of the race. Ordinary Republican House candidates — that is, traditional ones — outperformed both of Trump’s statewide picks.
The Georgia result is particularly instructive because Trump spent more money ($4.4 million) trying to defeat Kemp, the Republican governor, than he did on any one of his Republican Senate candidates. The former president spent only $3.7 million in Arizona, $2 million in Nevada, and $3.5 million in Pennsylvania on Senate candidates, all of whom lost. He spent $3.4 million in Georgia’s Senate race, which Walker failed to win.
So look at Trump’s record. He won just once, six years ago, against Hillary Clinton, the worst and least likable politician in modern history. Ever since that one moment, all Trump has done in elections is lose.
Republican primary voters, especially in key early primary states, can see this. A post-election poll of Republican voters in Iowa shows Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis beating Trump 48% to 37%. A similar poll of Republican New Hampshire voters has DeSantis up 52% to 37%. Other powerhouse Republican states are also abandoning Trump, including Florida (DeSantis 56%-Trump 30%), Georgia (DeSantis 55%-Trump 35%), and Texas (DeSantis 43%-Trump 32%).
The plain fact is that he is a drag on his party, a clear liability, and a danger to conservative governance. If he is picked again as the champion of the conservative party, he is nearly a sure loser (as much as he is a shamefully sore loser). With Trump hanging around them like a bad smell, Republicans are less attractive to voters, and Democrats are more likely to win and hold power. The midterm elections proved this. No wonder Democrats yearn to keep Trump as their main opponent for every election until the crack of doom.
Trump can feel the GOP base departing and his moment slipping away. There is a clear note of desperation about his decision to announce for the presidency now, months before it is necessary to do so. He knows he is getting weaker by the day. He’s frantic to remain relevant. It is also why he lashed out at DeSantis and Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin last week after his own night of failure became clear.
Republican voters want someone they can trust, who shares their values, and who can win. There are plenty of leading Republicans who are well capable of filling that role. Trump is not one of them.
After huge losses in 2018, 2020, and 2022, it is now abundantly clear that the only place Trump can lead Republicans is into the wilderness. Unlike other leaders who have done that in the past, he will not lead them back to the promised land. Both from a moral point of view and for the practical reason that he has proved himself a repeated loser, Trump should not be allowed anywhere near the Republican nomination for president.