The deviations from the prepared text went further in rehashing Trump’s past grievances, though his direct comments about the 2020 election — which he has never accepted losing — were relatively restrained.
But Trump’s call for an end to early voting, as Arizona and Nevada dealt Republicans narrow defeats up to a week after Election Day, and a return to paper ballots stem from his 2020 grievances. He also mentioned the investigations that plagued him in office and since leaving the White House, including the FBI raid on the property where his backers gathered Tuesday night.
“I’m a victim, I will tell you, I’m a victim,” he said.
The stemwinders that were once novel and unorthodox are now well worn after more than seven years as a political figure, including numerous rallies as an ex-president.
Those rallies conspicuously failed to move the needle for many of the battleground state Senate candidates who wouldn’t have emerged from the Republican primaries without Trump’s backing but could not get across the finish line in the general election.
Depending on the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoff, which includes one such candidate, Democrats may have a net gain of one seat in the chamber. That’s because Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is being replaced by a Democrat who beat a Trump-endorsed candidate.
The midterm elections and Trump’s subsequent attacks on intraparty rivals appear to have done more damage to his reputation as a winner than his loss to President Joe Biden or the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
While that is partly because Trump’s allegations about 2020 have some purchase with the Republican base, two years ago the GOP gained House seats and came within 43,000 votes of pulling off another Electoral College upset in a race many thought would be a landslide defeat. The midterm elections, by contrast, were supposed to be a red wave and resounding victory.
Instead Republicans failed to notch the net gain of one seat they needed to flip the 50-50 Senate, failing to upset a single Democratic incumbent. The party had a net loss of governorships as two popular centrists were replaced on the ballot by Trump-aligned Republicans who were not competitive in the general election. And Republicans were struggling to eke out a House majority a week later.
But the bigger question is whether Trump has anything new to say to an electorate that never fully embraced him or whether he is stuck with a message that worked in 2016 but has since lost much of its allure.
Even as a populist and nationalist, Trump risks being overtaken by a fresh face in 44-year-old Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Trump’s argument for why he remains preferable to DeSantis, who just won a second term by a landslide, hinges on the fact he endorsed the governor in 2018.
A crowd formed near the exit at Trump’s own announcement speech as it neared the hour mark.
The conservatives abandoning Trump following the midterms are in his view people and institutions that were slow to support, or outright opposed to, him in 2015-16. Most came around after he won the Republican nomination. Some of those who didn’t, attacking him as a longtime Democrat and Trojan horse liberal, have effectively become liberal Democrats themselves. (One of the newer twists in Trump’s speech was the invocation of “national greatness,” a phrase once associated with one of those Never Trump conservatives.)
There is also a wider Republican civil war going on after the midterm elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is facing a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chaired the Senate GOP’s campaign arm this cycle. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is hearing from disgruntled conservatives in his quest to become speaker.
Tensions between the conservative activist base and the GOP governing class date back more than a decade, with the Tea Party and increasingly competitive presidential primaries that saw establishment candidates starting to limp to the nomination — until Trump beat 16 other Republicans in 2016.
But other Republicans have tried to adapt to Trump’s innovations and the base’s frustrations. And right now, one of those frustrations is the failure to win much since the upset victories of 2016.
Republicans aren’t tired of winning yet. They may just be tired, in which case they could deliver Trump a wake-up call.