Republicans Losing the Midterms Would Be a Political Chokejob for the Ages

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

United they stand, divided they fall. That seems to be the normal midterm election mantra, where the president’s party (having governed and predictably overreached) is divided and on defense, while the “out” party is united with jaws slavering to rip apart the presidency.

But as the 2022 midterms approach, President Joe Biden’s party isn’t the one engaged in the most bitter backbiting (for a change).

“Sen. [Mitch] McConnell and I clearly have a strategic disagreement here,” Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Politico this week, adding: “If you trash talk our candidates… you hurt our chances of winning, and you hurt our candidates’ ability to raise money.”

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Scott repeated the “trash talk” line in an op-ed at the Washington Examiner on Thursday, where he oddly seemed to blame McConnell—not Donald Trump—for losing the Senate in 2020. “Unfortunately, many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates. It’s an amazing act of cowardice, and ultimately, it’s treasonous to the conservative cause,” he wrote. “Ultimately… when you complain and lament that we have ‘bad candidates,’ what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them,” Scott continued.

By “trash talk” and “bad candidates” Scott was presumably referring to McConnell’s attempt a couple weeks ago to manage expectations going into the post-Labor Day midterm season. In case you missed it, McConnell declared: “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”

McConnell’s comments are merely stating the obvious. Thanks in large part to Donald Trump’s endorsements, the GOP is saddled with not-ready-for-prime-time candidates like Masters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Herschel Walker—to name just a few. Should the current trajectory continue, these candidates will likely cost Republicans (who currently have 50 Senate seats) the opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate in November.

Regardless, it’s clear that Scott wants to stay in the good graces of MAGA world, even if that means throwing the senior Republican leader in the U.S. Senate under the bus.

Meanwhile, McConnell is in a different battle with venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who funded the primary campaign of tech bro Blake Masters in Arizona. Masters’ brand of right-wing illiberalism is cause for concern, but likely more concerning for McConnell is that Masters trails Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the polls. (Masters has responded by backtracking on some of his past positions, including on abortion.) Having helped foist Masters onto the GOP, Thiel apparently expects “Team Normal” to pick up the tab going forward.

No dice, says The Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-allied Super PAC that canceled about $8 million worth of advertising slated to back Masters in Arizona.

I’m with Mitch on this one. It was only thanks to Thiel’s money and Trump’s endorsement that allowed Masters to win the Republican nomination (while also criticizing McConnell, on occasion). Now, having elevated Masters, Thiel wants McConnell to carry him over the finish line (or worse, throw good money after bad)? I think not.

To be sure, McConnell’s no angel. If he decides come October that (a) Masters can win, and (b) Masters’ victory will make him majority leader again, Mitch will boost him. But absent those factors, I suspect McConnell would enjoy seeing these Trumpy candidates crash and burn. And who could blame him?

The point, though, is that we are witnessing a pseudo-internecine civil war in the Republican Party—at a time when a normal party would be cruising to a fairly standard midterm victory for an opposition party. But don’t blame McConnell or the establishment for acknowledging the problem; this conflict is coming to a head because the voters are rejecting weird or extreme Republican candidates.

Take this week’s special election in Alaska to fill the state’s at-large House seat, which was vacated by the death of long-time GOP Rep. Don Young. Former governor and vice presidential candidate (and MAGA pioneer)

Sarah Palin lost the race to Mary Peltola, a former judge who will be the first Democrat to hold the seat in a half-century.

Because of the quirky nature of Alaska’s ranked-choice voting, it would be a mistake to over-interpret the significance of a Democrat winning in this red state. Republican candidates did garner 60 percent of the vote, and another election will be held in just two months to determine who holds the seat in the next Congress. But here’s where it gets interesting: the Democrat only won because too few Alaskans who chose Republican Mark Begich as their first choice were willing to mark Sarah Palin as their second choice.

As Dave Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political Report, tweeted: “In the end, Palin was so disliked #AKAL wasn’t even that close.”

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To be sure, Palin has a lot of baggage. But when you consider the parade of fringe candidates representing the GOP on the ballot this November it’s not hard to imagine that candidate quality could cost Republicans more than a House seat in Alaska.

The GOP’s problems almost universally stem from a party that has not only tolerated Donald Trump and his MAGA minions, but has largely embraced them. And now, the chickens are coming home to roost. So if you’re a Republican leader, do you call out the crazy and distance yourself from the downfall, or just keep digging your own electoral grave?

It’s lose-lose for the party that is clearly supposed to win.

Should Republicans fail to take back the Senate, will that finally cause whoever is in charge of the Republican Party to finally reject Trumpism? Or will the Trump Train continue whistling past the GOP’s graveyard?

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