The GOP's Midterm Mess Provides Yet Another Opportunity to Dump Trump
Will the party finally take it?
The results of Tuesday’s midterms surprised a lot of people, including me. As I told Bernie Goldberg on this week’s No BS Zone, I was so confident the Republicans would have a strong night that the outline I’d written up for that episode (on election day) relied almost entirely on that premise.
With so many Americans continuing to struggle with high inflation, and concerned about other big issues — under two years of a very unpopular Democratic president, and Democratic control of the House and Senate — I figured that not even Donald Trump’s disastrous hold on the Republican party could deny the GOP of significant off-year gains. After all, Trump wasn’t even on the ballot.
But I was wrong. And it was because, as far as many voters were concerned, he was on the ballot.
He was on it through the many terrible (in some cases, crazy) Republican nominees his endorsement elevated to GOP-primary victories over far more competent, generally-appealing candidates. He was on it through ongoing and widespread election-denial that was often a precondition of his endorsement. He was on it through the findings of the January 6 committee, that illustrated in jaw-dropping detail (through the testimony of numerous individuals in his own administration and inner-circle) the lengths to which he tried to overturn U.S. democracy… including a refusal to quash the violence his efforts had caused. And he was on it through the looming announcement that he will once again run for president.
The GOP has only itself to blame. Republicans in Congress had a golden opportunity to kick Trump to the curb right after January 6, but they were far too afraid of his influence over the base to stand on principle, as well as their Constitutional oath. They instead invited him to continue poisoning their party — including electorally — for another two years.
There is no future for the GOP with Trump at the helm — not a bright or successful one anyway. He doesn’t care about the party, nor does he care about the country. He cares only about himself, and he’s not going to give up the reins voluntarily. Republicans are going to have to pull them from him forcefully.
The GOP’s midterm failures provide another opportunity to do just that, and over the past few days, we’re at least seeing some momentum shifting in that direction. Republican politicians, who were previously more careful with their criticisms of Trump, have ratcheted up the rhetoric advocating for his political retirement. The same has been true of some right-wing publications. Even a number of Trump-friendly cable-news commentators seem to be calling for a turning of the page.
I mean, when even Fox News’s Jesse Watters (one of Trump's earliest, most loyal and shameless media-lackeys) is suddenly comfortable criticizing the guy (in this case over Trump denying his Senate candidates of hundreds of millions of dollars he raised in their names), you know something has changed.
It certainly helps that strong party leaders like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp demonstrated to Republicans that there’s a path to resounding political victory, even when Trump sets his sights on you for being “disloyal”. Prominent, effective, non-Trumpy Republican leaders like Doug Ducey, Chris Sununu, and Pat Toomey chose not to run for the Senate this year, assuredly because they didn’t want to have to contend with Trump’s assaults. The same was true for countless potential House candidates.
What also helps is Ron DeSantis’s huge re-election victory in Florida, which dwarfed both of Trump’s electoral showings in the state. I’m not a fan of DeSantis and his culture-war stunts (which he’s employed mostly to build his national profile), but he’s far preferable to Trump, he’s a competent governor, he’s not politically toxic, and hopefully his popularity with general-election voters is sending a loud signal that GOP voters have at least one strong alternative for 2024.
Really, they should have several. And the party would be in a far better position, because of it, if Trump were somehow compelled not to run.
Do I have confidence that the Republican base and GOP leadership will wake up to all of this? Unfortunately, no (though I’d love to be proven wrong).
I’m not confident, because I saw stronger signs on January 6 (and the immediate days after) that the GOP was going to abandon Trump, and the exact opposite ended up happening. The personality cult lost the White House, but it continued to dominate the party and exact more misery and failure.
If, after all of this, Trump runs, and polling and rally-turnout show that the Republican base is standing by him, GOP politicians will accordingly snap back into line. If right-wing viewership, readership, and listenership declines due to increased criticism of Trump, media figures like Jesse Watters will happily shove their heads right back up the man’s rump.
Sadly, platforms and policies haven’t mattered much to the Republican base since the beginning of the MAGA era. If elections ultimately don’t matter either, all that’s left are entertainment and performance art.
And no politician is better at those things than Donald Trump.