Deflated Republicans were embarking on a period of introspection and blame on Wednesday after Herschel Walker, Donald Trump’s handpicked candidate, fell well short in his effort to capture Georgia’s Senate seat.
Walker’s failure in the runoff against the incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock was the most recent of a long list of misfires in the midterm elections for extremist candidates endorsed by the former president, who announced his latest run for the White House last month.
It secured Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate, leaving Republicans powerless to block key elements of Joe Biden’s agenda, especially judicial appointments, for at least two years.
Hours after Walker delivered his concession speech in Atlanta on Tuesday night, an increasing number of prominent party members were suggesting they were ready to look for a future unshackled by Trump and his lie that his 2020 election defeat to Biden was fraudulent.
John Bolton, national security adviser during Trump’s single term in office, was forthright in a tweet urging Republican colleagues to cast him aside.
“The outcome in Georgia is due primarily to Trump, who cast a long shadow over this race,” he wrote.
“His meddling and insistence that the 2020 election was stolen will deliver more losses. Trump remains a huge liability and the Democrats’ best asset. It’s time to disavow him and move on.”
John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and Senate minority whip, also blamed his party’s flops on the Trump factor.
“Was he a factor? I don’t think there’s any question about that, because a lot of the candidates that had problems in these elections were running on the 2020 election being stolen, and I don’t think independent voters were having it.”
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican seen as a close ally of the former president, did not refer to Trump directly in his own analysis, but saw blame for his party’s lackluster midterms performance in poor-quality candidates, such as Walker, focusing on Trump’s big lie.
“Democrats have done a pretty good job of picking issues that motivate their base and that have wider support among the public,” Graham told Politico.
“We need to be doing the same thing. I think a lot of people in the Republican party don’t see us doing it as emphatically as Democrats.”
Other election-denying, Trump-backed candidates who were defeated included Kari Lake, who was seeking the governorship of Arizona; Blake Masters, who lost his race for that state’s Senate seat; and Mehmet Oz, the celebrity television doctor and conspiracy theorist who was beaten by senator-elect John Fetterman in Pennsylvania as Democrats flipped the previously Republican-held seat.
The Lincoln Project, a political action committee consisting largely of disgruntled Republicans, gleefully tweeted a video clip from the rightwing Fox News network, captioned “And the runner-up is …”, showcasing 25 Trump-endorsed losers from various midterm races.
Trump himself remained defiant, posting on his own Truth Social network, in all capitals, that “Our country is in big trouble. What a mess!” and without accepting any responsibility for Walker’s defeat.
The question now is whether the Republican party, which has remained fiercely loyal despite his two impeachments, the 2020 election defeat and their failure to recapture control of Congress, still sees Trump as the undisputed party leader and the man to lead them into the 2024 presidential race. Many members are proposing to switch allegiance from a man mired in legal problems over the January 6 Capitol riot, his mishandling of classified documents post-presidency and efforts in Georgia to overturn Biden’s victory, to someone more appealing and without that baggage, such as Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis.
Trump’s toxicity at the ballot box, especially among suburban voters, provoked grumbling even before last weekend, when Trump was condemned for hosting dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida with the antisemitic rapper Kanye West and the white supremacist Nick Fuentes.
Several Republicans, including the usually loyal Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, also spoke out this week when Trump demanded the “termination” of the constitution to accommodate his election lies.
Mick Mulvaney, White House chief of staff in the Trump administration, pointed to the party’s mixed performance in Georgia, where the Republican governor, Brian Kemp, and senior officials were re-elected comfortably in the generally reliably red state. Trump lost Georgia to Biden in 2020, and watched Democrats take both Senate seats from Republicans he endorsed.
“Trump has now lost four races in Georgia in two years. One of his own and three by proxy. Similar stories in [Arizona and Pennsylvania],” Mulvaney tweeted.
“He has a swing-state problem for 2024 that is real. Again: those who win primaries, and lose general elections, are still losers.”