Conservatives turn fire on Trump over midterm debacle ahead of expected announcement of presidential run

Defeat brings out more of Donald Trump’s GOP enemies than impeachment or Mar-a-Lago docs ever did

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 14 November 2022 01:54 GMT
‘I’m tired of losing’: GOP governor Larry Hogan says Trump should sit out 2024 election

More of Donald Trump’s conservative enemies are coming out of the woodwork as the GOP inches closer to a full-scale civil war in the wake of a dismal showing in the 2022 midterm elections.

The Republican Party is now in disarray as a so-called “red wave” that was being predicted mere hours before polls closed failed to materialise and voters instead handed Democrats the keys to a Senate majority for the next two years. The final blow in that regard came on Saturday evening, when news networks called the Nevada Senate race in favour of incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto in a final humiliating note for the GOP bid to retake the upper chamber. While the Georgia race is headed to a runoff in December, the question now is only whether Democrats will expand their majority by one seat.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives remains in flux. A total of 11 seats remain still under contention, enough to swing the balance of power either way. On Sunday evening Democrats were at 203 seats, Republicans at 212; both parties have clear paths to a majority still on the table, a prospect that conservative pundits were calling unthinkable just a week ago.

Control of the House aside, it’s clear that Republicans performed far worse than expected. Mainstream journalists, relying on polling that did not adequately account for a massive wave of young voters, were calling the House “lost” for Democrats before the first early votes were even cast. As Republicans face the question of whether they will be relevant at all on Capitol Hill for the next two years, the party has begun pointing fingers and conjuring scapegoats as its members seek an explanation for their failure.

And at the top of the list of those scapegoats is Donald Trump. The former president made no secret of his desire to control the Republican Party’s destiny this election cycle, endorsing in key primaries and edging supporters of his impeachment out of the party. The party’s crop of US Senate nominees in particular was formed in his image: a group of hard-right, fresh-faced political newcomers with unvetted backgrounds and unfettered loyalty to their leader eager to spread his conspiracies about the 2020 election. Therein lies the reason for the blame, as establishment GOP figures like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been warning for months that issues of “candidate quality” could cost them their shot at the upper chamber.

Those concerns have now clearly been borne out. Adam Laxalt, who faced relentless criticism for his family’s political connections and elite pedigree, failed to oust the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrat, Catherine Cortez Masto. In neighbouring Arizona, Mark Kelly defeated Blake Masters, who after winning the primary continued cultivating an image of a hardline conservative and Trump loyalist, even appearing in a campaign video with scandal-plagued congressman Madison Cawthorn. Even in Ohio, where Trump-endorsed JD Vance defeated congressman Tim Ryan for the state’s open US Senate seat, the Republican underperformed Mr Trump’s own 2020 results in the state.

Enter Mr Trump’s critics, who have smelled blood in the water and pounced on an opportunity to hold him responsible for the GOP’s midterm defeat. Many, like Maryland’s governor Larry Hogan, directly tied Mr Trump and his candidates’ embrace of 2020 conspiracies to the defeat (like Maryland’s Dan Cox, who was soundly defeated by Democrat Wes Moore).

Calling Tuesday’s elections Mr Trump’s third strike, Mr Hogan appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday to heap blame on the former president and call on his party to embrace winning strategies.

“This should have been a huge red wave. It should have been one of the biggest red waves we’ve ever had,” Mr Hogan argued, adding that those who parroted Mr Trump’s conspiracies were almost “universally rejected”.

Others, like New Hampshire’s GOP governor Chris Sununu, agreed. Mr Sununu called Tuesday’s results a rejection of “extremism” which he said that “a lot of Republicans were painted with, rightfully or not”.

He was pressed further on whether Mr Trump and Trumpism were the “extremism” that voters had supposedly rejected in an interview with ABC News.

“I think there's an extreme left and an extreme right,” he responded. “In this sense, I think a lot of folks are saying, 'Look, it's not about payback, it's about solving problems,' right?"

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That sense that Mr Trump has turned his politics into a means of seeking payback against Joe Biden and his other various political enemies has not just hit home with anti-Trump conservatives in elected offices. The conservative media sphere, long one of Mr Trump’s most important allies, appeared to turn on him in near-uniform fashion, one by one, in the days after the midterms.

“Ron DeSantis is the new Republican Party leader,” declared GOP strategist Liz Peek in a Fox News opinion article published by the network immediately following the elections.

“The biggest loser?” she wrote, “Donald Trump, whose handpicked loyalist candidates in a number of races struggled to beat vulnerable Democrats. Once again, the former president may have cost Republicans control of the Senate, in a year when it was theirs to lose.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board echoed the attack: “Trump is the Republican Party’s biggest loser,” it declared in an editorial.

The opinion pages of the New York Post were equally brutal.

Craziest moments from US midterm election night

“The GOP and the country can do better than Trump (or Biden) in 2024,” read the Post’s editorial.

“Like the vast majority of Americans of all parties, we desperately want better choices in 2024, not some grotesque re-do of the 2020 election. What Biden and his party do is up to them, but Republicans have a strong field of rising stars. Looking backward is not the way to go. It’s time to move past Biden’s ineptitude and Trump’s fecklessness, and get behind one of those new GOP stars.”

That leaves Mr Trump with fewer allies than any time in recent memory as he prepares for what polls suggest as many as six in 10 Americans do not want: an announcement of his long-expected 2024 bid for the presidency.

Rumours swirled ahead of his election day-eve rally in Ohio that the former president planned to officially declare his candidacy that night. But a statement to supporters promising a major announcement in two weeks, scheduled for Tuesday, killed those chances and now much of Washington and the larger political landscape is preparing for the inevitable circus that is sure to erupt with the beginning of Donald Trump’s third bid for the White House.

Mr Trump remains under at least one criminal investigation concerning the supposedly illegal retention of documents, including highly classified materials, at Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department also continues to pursue a grand jury investigation into the 6 January attack on Congress, while prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are separately involved in their own investigation into the efforts of Mr Trump’s team to affect the election results in that state after the race was called.

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