Republicans must undo Trump to win in 2024

On Thursday evening, two days after the midterm elections in which the widely expected Republican “red wave” failed to materialize, Donald Trump issued a long, intemperate statement about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who outclassed the other Republicans on Tuesday, returning home to the Sunshine State. .

Calling the DeSantis “DeSanctimonious”, he accused him of being an “average” governor, “playing games” and lacking “loyalty and class”. The screed was not a statement from a politician that things are going well.

Indeed, this week has been disastrous for Trump. The stage was set for a big night for Republicans. A first-term president’s party typically takes a midterm hit, and things looked particularly favorable for Republicans this year. Joe Biden is an aging and historically unpopular president who seems increasingly unstable in his public appearances.

Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years, violent crime is on the rise and voters are still angry with Democrats for Covid restrictions and school closures.

And yet the Republicans missed the political equivalent of an open goal. The votes are still being counted, but it looks like the GOP will get a narrow majority in the House of Representatives while the Senate will remain in Democratic hands.

How did it happen? It’s hard not to conclude that the Trump Effect is a big part of the story. The former president dominated the primaries. Across America, candidates had to give themselves up to Trump for a chance to win their party’s nomination. That meant toying with his fantasies about stealing the 2020 election and a host of other blockages and priorities that might resonate with Trump and MAGA loyalists but alienate the average voter. The result was a party represented by wacky and extreme candidates in winnable states.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the party nominated Mehmet Oz, an out-of-state and unpopular TV doctor, for the Senate seat and a hardline “Stop Theft” extremist named Doug Mastriano for the gubernatorial race. They lost both races. In New Hampshire, Don Bolduc, another Trumpist, lost by eight points while Chris Sununu, the traditional Republican governor, won re-election by sixteen points.

Across the country, nearly every state-level Republican denier — candidates promising to rewrite election rules as part of Trump’s election security — have been voted down by the electorate.

One telling detail comes from NBC’s exit poll: voting trends among those who said they “somewhat disapproved” of Biden. In this bloc of disgruntled moderates, center-right Republicans did well, but they were put off by MAGA extremists.

Trump isn’t the whole story of course. In hindsight, Republicans seem complacent in their messaging on the economy, happy to simply point out that prices were rising rather than telling voters what they plan to do about it. Abortion also appears to have been a big factor, with the threat of pro-life bans mobilizing Democratic voters.

But even taking these other issues into account, it’s clear that Trump is a campaign liability for his party. And the penny finally seems to be coming down for more and more Republicans.

Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s former White House press secretary, urged him to delay the heavily teased announcement of his presidential run scheduled for next week. Other longtime aides didn’t mince words. “Republicans followed Donald Trump off a cliff,” David Urban, who advised Trump’s campaign in 2016 and served in his administration, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Before the polls closed on Tuesday, Trump was asked, win or lose, how responsible he would be for the outcome. “Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit. And if they lose, I shouldn’t get blamed at all,” he replied, with a glint in his eye. It was vintage Trump: cheeky, funny, honest and narcissistic. Trump shows no signs of backing down. His announcement is still scheduled for next week and, as his anti-DeSantis rant shows, he won’t go calmly.

And why should he, many Republicans will say. He remains the face of the GOP, he has a loyal following and the support of many personalities of a party he has rebuilt in his image. But Republicans convinced of the damage Trump continues to do to their party have their best shot at throwing him overboard. Whether or not they are brave enough to take it is another matter altogether.

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