While a possible hurricane appears headed in the direction of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the former president is facing an entirely different storm of his own after an underwhelming Republican performance in the midterm elections, particularly among candidates he endorsed.
Several battleground states were too close to call early Wednesday, but it’s now clear there was no “red tsunami,” leaving many to question whether the former president should be acting as a political kingmaker or remain the leader of the Republican Party.
In several critical races, Trump-endorsed candidates lost or were faring poorly. The biggest blow to Republicans on Tuesday night was in Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman defeated Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz in the most expensive Senate race in the United States, costing the GOP a seat in the upper chamber. In Arizona, Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who campaigned together as an “America First” ticket, both were down in their races for governor and Senate, respectively.
Trump’s endorsed candidates did have some wins Tuesday. J.D. Vance, the GOP Senate nominee in Ohio, won a Republican-leaning but hotly contested seat. In North Carolina‘s Senate race, Republican Ted Budd came out on top.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump preemptively deflected blame for a poor showing on election night.
“Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit,” he told NewsNation. “And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all, OK?”
But many in Republican circles don’t see it that way. Instead, some within his party are turning against him, highlighting the limits of the former president’s political power.
“Things generally went well where the Republican was perceived as competent and not a servant to Trump — otherwise, not so much,” said one GOP operative speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to reflect candidly on the results. “The GOP should’ve become the party of Brian Kemp and Ron DeSantis yesterday, but it damn well better become it today.”
Trump endorsed over 330 candidates, held 30 rallies, and raised millions of dollars over the course of the midterm elections. The former president intended to use Tuesday’s results to strengthen his position within the party by delivering wins for the candidates he endorsed. But with the party’s underperformance, there appears to be growing frustration at the former president for endorsing what many see as a “slate of bad candidates.”
“It’s time for Trump to step aside. Many of these races should have been easy wins for Republicans with record inflation and President Joe Biden’s sagging approval ratings. Instead, last night was an absolute nightmare scenario,” said an adviser to a Republican senator, who did not want to be identified. “I personally do not know of one person who still feels confident in his leadership after last night.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) previously voiced concerns about “candidate quality” in Republicans’ pursuit to gain control of the Senate, a reference to GOP nominees endorsed by the former president who successfully purged the party of many centrist candidates he viewed as disloyal. As a result, McConnell’s super PAC pulled out of several races after it lost confidence in GOP nominees in states such as Arizona and New Hampshire.
The ongoing feud between the GOP Senate leader and the largest figure in the Republican Party has brought with it intraparty division. Earlier this week, Trump slammed McConnell as a “lousy leader” in an interview with Fox News Digital and said he’d force Senate Republicans to replace McConnell as their leader if he wins the presidency in 2024.
“Very, very simply, Mitch McConnell was right. The MAGA and MyPillow-ization of the Republican Party was a disaster in these elections,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former communications director for the Republican National Committee.
“You had bad first-time candidates who lost and who deserved to lose. That’s true whether you’re talking about Dr. Oz, who had no basis to run, or a Bo Hines in North Carolina. So many of these candidates essentially ran to be Trump Hotel celebrities, and the Trump Hotel is gone.”
The underwhelming results for Republicans could have consequences for leadership, with some already pointing blame at House GOP campaign chief Tom Emmer (R-MI) and questioning Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) ability to govern a rancorous GOP conference.
“Emmer is going to be the one most directly affected by this. People are going to try and blame Emmer, but Emmer is not these candidates. Republican voters voted for these candidates. I always find it too easy to just pin blame in Washington, D.C.,” Heye said. “Ultimately, what does this mean for Kevin? I think we have to wait and see.”
Republicans are still hanging on to hopes of winning a narrow majority in the House. Republicans hold 212 seats in the current Congress and needed to pick up a handful more to gain the majority. Democrats currently hold 220 seats.
McCarthy said early Wednesday that Republicans “will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority,” but it’s still unclear how large the GOP majority will be, as the votes continue to be counted.
“I’m very surprised. Personally, my prediction was we’re going to get at least 23 seats — frankly, I’m shocked,” said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chairman. “I think managing the House Republican caucus will be difficult. You’re going to have a small majority, which means any cohesive block of votes will be able to have an impact on policy and what they do. Given the fact that they aren’t going to be working with a Senate majority under any circumstances, much of the things the House is going to be able to do is either symbolic or kind of a check and balance on the process.”
Over the weekend, Trump suggested he would announce his third run for president on Nov. 15, with the expectation his inner circle would use what they thought would be major GOP momentum to rally the party around his 2024 bid. It’s unclear if those plans are set to move forward and how Trump could spin the results Tuesday into a winning narrative. Instead, the most resounding Republican victory came in Florida, where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection by nearly 20 percentage points. DeSantis has been widely viewed as the leading alternative to the former president for the Republican nomination.
“There are Republicans who should view this as an opportunity to finally dump Trump and the MyPillow wing of the party and run in a position of strength instead of running scared,” Heye said.