Trump Under Fire From Within GOP After Midterms

Former President Donald Trump greets his guests at his election night party at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)
Former President Donald Trump greets his guests at his election night party at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times)

Donald Trump faced unusual public attacks from across the Republican Party on Wednesday after a string of midterm losses by candidates he had handpicked and supported, a display of weakness as he prepared to announce a third presidential campaign as soon as next week.

As the sheer number of missed Republican opportunities sank in, the rush to openly blame Trump was as immediate as it was surprising.

Conservative allies criticized Trump on social media and cable news, questioning whether he should continue as the party’s leader and pointing to his toxic political brand as the common thread woven through three consecutive lackluster election cycles.

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Trump was seen as largely to blame for the Republicans’ underwhelming finish in Tuesday’s elections, as a number of the candidates he had endorsed in competitive races were defeated — including nominees for governor and Senate in Pennsylvania and for governor of Michigan, New York and Wisconsin.

“Republicans have followed Donald Trump off the side of a cliff,” David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser with ties to Pennsylvania, said in an interview.

Former Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who has long supported Trump, said, “I strongly believe he should no longer be the face of the Republican Party,” adding that the party “can’t become a personality cult.”

The chorus of criticism, which unfolded on Fox News and social media throughout the day, revealed Trump to be at his most vulnerable point politically since the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Still, Trump has built a deep well of loyalty with Republican voters, and party officials cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether he would suffer any lasting political damage beyond a flurry of bad headlines, or whether a rival will emerge to challenge him. Trump has built a career on outlasting political controversy, and Trump aides insisted that any suggestion of weakness was a media confection.

“I am proud to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2024,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said in a statement. “It is time for Republicans to unite around the most popular Republican in America who has a proven track record of conservative governance.”

Sen.-elect J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, an early choice of Trump, said he believed Trump would be the nominee if he runs. “Every year, the media writes Donald Trump’s political obituary. And every year, we’re quickly reminded that Trump remains the most popular figure in the Republican Party,” he said. And Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., said he supported Trump, who “transformed our party.”

Stefanik, Vance and Banks all provided statements after The New York Times sought comment from an aide to Trump.

Publicly, Trump put the best face on the results, pointing to dozens of wins for his endorsed candidates in less competitive races.

In an interview Wednesday with Fox News, he pointed to Vance, who delivered a convincing victory, and to Herschel Walker, the former football star, who will face Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in a runoff.

“We had tremendous success — why would anything change?” Trump said when asked whether he would delay his announcement.

But at his home in Florida, Trump was privately spreading blame, including to Fox News host Sean Hannity and casino mogul Steve Wynn, for his endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz, the defeated Pennsylvania Senate candidate. He included his wife, Melania, among those he complained had offered poor advice, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

Among Republican operatives who have been open to working with another Trump presidential campaign, a handful said they were reconsidering. That could present a challenge for Trump, who has a handful of trusted advisers but almost no one yet staffing key aspects of a campaign-in-waiting.

Kayleigh McEnany, a former Trump White House press secretary and one of his longtime defenders, said on Fox News on Wednesday that her former boss should hold off on an announcement, at least until after the runoff election for Senate in Georgia.

“He needs to put it on pause, absolutely,” McEnany said. “If I’m advising any contender, no one announces 2024 until we get through Dec 6.”

Trump, however, has been teasing rally crowds for weeks with hints of another presidential bid — one that was meant to capitalize on the momentum gained by what he repeatedly predicted would be a towering Republican victory in Tuesday’s elections. That would allow him to claim credit for endorsing the winners, holding dozens of rallies to showcase them and, in a new spirit of benevolence, spending millions of dollars from his campaign treasury on advertisements to support them.

Instead, the party fared far more poorly than it had expected, though it remains within reach of control of one or both houses of Congress.

On Wednesday, Trump was said to be furious with Hannity, to whom the former president often turns for political advice, and who was among several people who urged him to endorse Oz.

In Arizona, Kari Lake and Blake Masters, running for governor and Senate respectively, had campaigned together as “America First” candidates carrying Trump’s banner. Both were behind as the counting continued in races too close to call.

And in 36 House races that the Cook Political Report rated as tossups, Trump endorsed just five Republicans. Each one lost Tuesday.

“Almost every one of these Trump-endorsed candidates that you see in competitive states has lost,” Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s a huge loss for Trump. And, again, it shows that his political instincts are not about the party, they’re not about the country — they’re about him.”

King said the results showed that it was time for the party to move on, and he faulted Trump for sniping at political allies.

“His self-promotion and his attacks on Republicans including Ron DeSantis and Mitch McConnell were largely responsible for Republicans not having a red wave,” King said. “We can’t allow blind fealty to Trump to determine the fate of our party.”

Scott Jennings, a longtime adviser to McConnell, the Senate minority leader, pointed to exit polls that showed Trump was less popular than President Joe Biden. He said if Trump wanted to see a Republican elected president in 2024, he should not run.

Jennings suggested DeSantis, the Florida governor, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia as potential alternatives. He called for those Republicans to move urgently, pointing to the former president’s rapid political recovery after his supporters rioted in the Capitol, after Trump had falsely told them that his reelection victory had been stolen.

“The void has to be filled,” Jennings said. “After Jan. 6, the GOP hesitated and he quickly recovered. DeSantis cannot hesitate.”

Adding to Trump’s long night Tuesday, one of the few Republican bright spots in the midterms came in Florida, where DeSantis — widely viewed as the leading alternative to Trump in 2024 — won reelection with the widest margin of any Republican in the 24 years the party has controlled the governor’s office in Tallahassee.

The New York Post, one of Trump’s favorite publications, devoted its cover Wednesday to an election-night photo of the 44-year-old governor celebrating with his young family. The tabloid’s headline, “DeFuture,” turned his family name into a compliment — just four days after Trump dismissed DeSantis as “DeSanctimonious” at a rally.

On Wednesday, Trump pointed out on his social media website, Truth Social, that he had received more total votes in Florida during his 2020 presidential race than DeSantis won Tuesday. Trump’s margin of victory, however, was only about one-tenth as wide.

It remains to be seen how durable the criticisms of Trump will prove, but in the immediate aftermath of votes being cast, some Republicans were willing to deliver unusually blunt on-the-record criticisms of Trump.

“Americans tend to support candidates who look forward and not backward,” said Urban, the former Trump adviser. “If Trump can do that, people would be excited. But can he? If history is any judge, I don’t think he can and it’s a shame. He’s an incredibly skilled politician in many ways, but in other ways, he just doesn’t get it.”

Mike Cernovich, a conservative blogger and longtime defender of Trump, broke with his political ally Wednesday, posting a series of messages to his 1 million followers on Twitter, in which he referred to the midterms “an ass-kicking” for Republicans, and suggested the only silver lining was “at least no one has to suck up to Trump anymore.”

“The country doesn’t care about the 2020 election,” Cernovich wrote. “Trump can’t move on, oh well. Bye.”

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