WASHINGTON (AP) — It was supposed to be a red wave that former President Donald Trump could triumphantly ride to the Republican nomination as he prepares to launch another White House run.
Instead, Tuesday night’s disappointing results for the GOP are raising new questions about Trump’s appeal and the future of a party that has fully embraced him, seemingly at its peril, while at the same time giving new momentum to his most potent potential rival.
Indeed, some allies were calling on Trump to delay his planned announcement next week, saying the party’s full focus needs to be on Georgia, where Trump-backed football great Herschel Walker’s effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is headed to a runoff that could determine control of the Senate once again.
“I’ll be advising him that he move his announcement until after the Georgia runoff,” said former Trump adviser Jason Miller, who spent the night with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. “Georgia needs to be the focus of every Republican in the country right now,” he said.
Trump sought to use the midterms as an opportunity to prove his enduring political influence after losing the White House in 2020. He endorsed more than 330 candidates in races up and down the ballot, often elevating inexperienced and deeply flawed candidates. He reveled in their primary victories. But many of their positions, including echoing Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election and embracing hardline views on abortion, were out of step with the political mainstream.
Trump did notch some big wins Tuesday, particularly in Ohio, where his pick for the Senate, “Hillbilly Elegy” author JD Vance, sailed to easy victory after Trump’s endorsement catapulted him to the front of a crowded primary pack. In North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, an early Trump pick, kept an open Senate seat in GOP hands.
But Trump lost some of the night’s biggest prizes, particularly in Pennsylvania, where Dr. Mehmet Oz, who only narrowly won his Senate primary with Trump’s backing, lost to Democrat John Fetterman. Trump-backed candidates also lost governors’ races in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Maryland, and a Senate race in New Hampshire, though Trump seemed to celebrate the latter, bashing Republican Dan Bolduc for trying to moderate his stances by backing off his embrace of Trump’s election lies.
“Had he stayed strong and true, he would have won, easily,” Trump said on his social media network. “Lessons Learned!!!” (Trump also cheered the loss of Colorado Republican Senate hopeful Joe O’Dea, who had said he thought it was time for the party to move on from Trump.)
Other high-stakes races in Arizona and Nevada remained too early to call.
Indeed, the Republicans’ biggest victory of the night came in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis cruised to reelection, cementing his status as a rising national Republican star as he eyes his own potential 2024 run.
“I have only begun to fight,” he told supporters in is victory speech.
While Republicans still appear well positioned to flip the House, and could ultimately take the Senate, too, those who had believed frustrations with record inflation, combined with President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, would deliver swift and decisive victories were pointing fingers in the former president’s direction. The night’s message, they argued: The American people want to move on.
“I mean, we had a historic opportunity and Trump’s recruitment of unelectable candidates blew it for us,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist. “Trump’s now lost three elections in a row for the Republican Party and it’s time to snap out of this foolishness.”
Reed argued the party “had everything going for us: Money, the issue agenda, Biden being in the tank,” but said Trump’s efforts to keep himself in the spotlight by teasing a run in the race’s final stretch “obviously worked up a lot of independents and Democrats to turn out and vote.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime Trump friend and adviser-turned-critic, who is considering his own run for president in 2024, said Republicans “have a fundamental decision to make.”
“We lost in ’18. We lost in ’20. We lost in ’21 in Georgia. And now in ’22 we’re going to net lose governorships, we’re not going to pick up the number of seats in the House that we thought and we may not win the Senate despite a president who has a 40 percent job approval,” he said. “There’s only one person to blame for that and that’s Donald Trump.”
He blamed Trump for elevating deeply flawed candidates, who won their primaries but struggled in the general election.
“The only animating factor (for him) in determining an endorsement is, ‘Do you believe the 2020 election was stolen or don’t you?’” Christie said. “It’s not, ‘Can you raise money?’ It’s not, ‘Do you have an articulatable vision for the future of your state or your district?’ It’s not evidence of past success in communicating to voters. It is a completely self-centered determination.”
Trump, meanwhile, insisted publicly he was happy with the results.