Some Republicans attributed their party’s losses in the 2022 midterm elections, including most recently in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, to former President Donald Trump and his baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“His obsession with the 2020 election became an albatross and a real liability for people who are running, especially in swing states,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters on Wednesday.
“The moral of that story is again, that when people think about elections ... they want candidates that come forward and talk about forward-looking positive agenda that hopefully inspires and appeals to their hopes and their aspirations and in some states, at least, we didn’t do a good job at that,” he added.
On Tuesday, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) defeated former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia’s runoff Senate election, handing Democrats a 51-seat majority in the upper chamber. Walker won the GOP nomination with the backing of Trump, only to see his general election campaign falter amid repeated gaffes and accusations of paying women for abortions.
Yet Walker wasn’t the only Trump-backed candidate who fell short this year. Other Senate GOP candidates who embraced Trump firmly but ended up losing included Blake Masters in Arizona, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire.
“I think candidates matter. I think we lost two or three or four races we didn’t have to lose this year,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Wednesday.
Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) offered a more blunt response.
“Just one more data point in an overwhelming body of data that the Trump obsession is very bad for Republicans,” Toomey said, adding that “normal” Republicans did “extremely well” this year.
Warnock’s victory marks the third Senate election in a row Republicans have lost in Georgia, a state that is trending bluer after years of being reliably in the GOP column. In 2020, Trump’s talk of stolen elections helped depress turnout among GOP voters in the Peach State, handing Democrats the Senate majority for the first time since 2014. Two years later, Trump again kneecapped his party by backing Walker in the primary, elevating a first-time candidate with a record of domestic violence allegations and a tendency to embellish his record.
Still, several GOP senators on Tuesday rejected the notion that Trump was mainly to blame for their party’s poor performance in this year’s Senate elections.
“I hate overgeneralizing. There’s just no way to ever tell because everyone has their own perspective on this,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said when asked whether Trump helped or hurt his party this year.
“Blaming one person because he’s an easy person to villainize is just wrong,” added Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). Nevertheless, she argued Republicans needed to do some “soul-searching” after the Georgia runoff election and focus on bringing better ideas to the table in the next cycle.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) argued that Walker wasn’t necessarily to blame for losing in Georgia. He cited insufficient organizing on the ground instead.
“You had in Herschel Walker someone who cleared the Republican field, he was so overwhelmingly popular. I think it’s hard to judge him as a bad candidate,” Cramer said.
Other GOP senators argued that the party needed to embrace the idea of early voting, something Democrats had championed and Trump had openly scorned.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), meanwhile, put the blame generally on what Republicans were selling to the American people. The soft-spoken Michigan Democrat headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats. Every Senate incumbent of the party in power won reelection this year for the first time since 1934.
“It was clear the American people really don’t like Republicans that much. I mean, that was clear in all of our research, they were saying they don’t offer anything positive,” Peters told reporters on Wednesday.
Democrats are facing a much tougher map in 2024, however: They will have to defend seven seats in states Trump won at least once, with only two pick-up opportunities. Warnock’s win in Georgia made things somewhat easier for the party, and with Trump running for president again, Republicans could face even more trouble the next time around.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a frequent Trump critic, said his party will continue to face a Trump quandary going into 2024.
“If you get endorsed by him in the primary, you’re likely to win. If you get endorsed by him in the general, you’re likely to lose,” Romney said. “So for someone who actually wants to win an election, getting endorsed by him is the kiss of death.”