The ‘Trump effect’ destroyed Republicans this year

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FILE – Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York, on his way to the New York attorney general’s office for a deposition in a civil investigation. Donald Trump’s company on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, has been convicted of tax fraud for a scheme by top executives to avoid paying personal income taxes on perks such as apartments and luxury cars. As punishment, the Trump Organization could be fined up to $1.6 million. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File) Julia Nikhinson/AP

The ‘Trump effect’ destroyed Republicans this year

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Herschel Walkers 100,000-vote loss in Georgia puts the exclamation point on the “Donald Trump is electoral poison” narrative. If the former president had deliberately attempted to sabotage the Republicans’ chances ever since November 2020, he could not have been more destructive than he actually was.

In the Senate, the Trump effect meant Republicans lost chances at a whopping 10 seats (one of them two times!) they either should have won or in which they might have been competitive. In the House, Trump’s harm was more diffused, but almost equally baleful.

TRUMP’S LOSING SENATE RECORD

On Jan. 5, 2021, Republicans lost two Senate seats in Georgia they almost assuredly would have won if Trump had not depressed Republican turnout by waging verbal war on Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state. Then, in the 2022 cycle, Trump’s direct endorsements or his attacks or threatened attacks on otherwise winnable candidates doomed Republicans in nine states (and almost doomed them in otherwise Republican Ohio).

Arizona should have been a relatively easy GOP win. Gov. Doug Ducey is popular, but Trump’s baseless attacks helped keep him from the race. Superb, conservative Attorney General Mark Brnovich did try for the Senate nomination and would probably have won the general election, but Trump absolutely trashed him while endorsing Blake Masters — an oddball with an arguably antisemitic past who twice in the past 18 months actually praised the manifesto of the Unabomber.

In Pennsylvania, against a radical, stroke-addled, failed Democratic former mayor of a tiny town, Trump ignored solid businessman Dave McCormick in favor of Mehmet Oz, a quack-ish TV doctor who lived in New Jersey and carried political water for Turkish Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In New Hampshire, both the extremely popular governor, Chris Sununu, and the admired former senator, Kelly Ayotte (the latter of whom lost by only 1,017 votes in 2016 while running better than Trump did), declined to run, it seems, because they didn’t want to deal with Trump’s abuse. Instead, the nominee was election denier Don Bolduc, who repeatedly insisted his state’s public schools were making young children use kitty litter instead of commodes.

In Georgia again, Trump cleared the field of potentially strong primary opponents for Walker — on the surface a potentially strong candidate, but one whose increasingly manifest flaws could have been vetted in a more competitive primary that Trump’s interference effectively negated. Almost any decent Republican nominee would have defeated Democrat Raphael Warnock, if only the Republican didn’t admit to living in Texas and to having played Russian roulette, all while telling multiple lies and probably having paid for two abortions.

In Nevada, otherwise excellent candidate Adam Laxalt made the mistake of embracing Trump’s election denialism and lost an excruciatingly close contest. In Maryland, supremely popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan declined to run, as did popular three-term Gov. Phil Scott in Vermont, both probably dissuaded by the Trump factor. Neither is a conservative stalwart, but both would have been far better than the leftist Democrats who won. While both would have had a tough time winning Senate races in such “blue” states, both surely at least would have been competitive.

In Colorado and Washington state, there is no way to test the hypothetical that impressive, non-Trumpy candidates Joe O’Dea and Tiffany Smiley, respectively, would have run close races if the whole GOP brand weren’t poisoned by Trump, but at least some of the evidence indicates as much. It certainly didn’t help that even in the general election, Trump openly campaigned for O’Dea’s defeat.

Republicans lost every one of those states.

Then there are the House races, where Republicans did, just barely, resecure the majority Trump lost for them in 2018. But by all common expectations, they severely underperformed. The perceived Trumpiness of the whole party certainly hurt the cause, especially since two-thirds of incumbent Republicans voted to challenge the election results. Most pundits ignored the key poll findings all year that a solid majority of independent voters were less likely to vote for any candidate who said the 2020 election results were illegitimate. Combine that with the way Trump motivated liberals to vote: Surveys showed they otherwise were discouraged by President Joe Biden’s performance, but it seems their antipathy toward (or fear of) Trump drove them to turn out against Republicans anyway, rather than staying home.

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Meanwhile, Trump-aligned Republican candidates lost eminently winnable gubernatorial races in Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania and an arguably competitive contest in Illinois, while incumbent GOP juggernaut Gov. Charlie Baker declined to run for a third term in Massachusetts when Trump supported a primary opponent.

Rarely in modern political history has a major party suffered from as many legitimate, missed opportunities as the Republicans did in 2022. The common denominator in most of them was Trump. For their own political good, Republicans should treat him as anathema.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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