9 min read

Inside the GOP blame game

Republicans never held an autopsy after their 2020 losses. Now the finger-pointing is going in all directions.
Inside the GOP blame game

Good morning! It’s Friday, November 11, 2022. The 2024 elections are 725 days away.

Thanks for reading WUTP during this consequential week in American politics. In case you missed it: Here’s my piece yesterday on President Biden after the midterms, drawing on inside-the-room insights from his post-election press conference.

This morning, I want to turn to the other side of the aisle, and take a look at the blame game that has quickly broken out inside the GOP after their worse-than-expected showing this week.

Happy Veterans Day and a sincere thanks to all who have served and made sacrifices in honor of our country. 🇺🇸

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Republican blame game begins after disappointing midterms

Republicans probably won the House this week.

As of right now, the Associated Press has called 211 House races for Republicans and 194 for Democrats; 30 remain undecided. NBC News projects that, once all is said and done, the GOP will land at 220 seats — two more than the 218 they need for a majority.

That would be the culmination of everything they’ve worked for since losing the House to Democrats in 2018 — but a significant disappointment in light of their expectations before Election Day, when party leaders boasted about a “red wave” that would give them a 20- or 30-seat majority. Historically, too, it would make this one of the weakest midterm performances for an out-party in recent memory.

Republicans are now casting around for someone to blame, and many have landed on a culprit: former President Donald Trump, who barnstormed the country promoting several risky candidates who have fallen flat in winnable races. Here’s a sampling of the GOP voices who are ready to turn the page on Trump after Tuesday:

Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose seat flipped to Democratic hands after Trump’s chosen candidate was defeated:

“All over the country, there’s a very high correlation between MAGA candidates and big losses... I think my party needs to face the fact that if fealty to Donald Trump is the primary criteria for selecting candidates, we’re not going to do really well.”

Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R-VA), who chaired the Trump campaign’s Black outreach in 2020:

“A true leader understands when they have become a liability. A true leader understands that it’s time to step off the stage, and the voters have given us that very clear message... I could not suport him [in 2024].”

Rep.-elect Mike Lawler (R-NY), who defeated House Democratic campaign chairman Sean Patrick Maloney:

“I would like to see the party move forward. I think any time you are focused on the future, you can’t so much go to the past.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), an early Trump endorser in 2016 and onetime confidant:

“We lost in ‘18. We lost in ’20. We lost in ’21 in Georgia. And now in ’22 we’re going to net lose governorships, we’re not going to pick up the number of seats in the House that we thought, and we may not win the Senate despite a president who has a 40% job approval. There’s only one person to blame for that and that’s Donald Trump.”
Former President Donald Trump on the 2022 campaign trail. (Gage Skidmore)

Meanwhile, over on Truth Social, Trump is in full-on meltdown mode. In the past 24 hours, he’s falsely Truthed that the uncalled Senate races are “rigged,” shared blatant QAnon imagery, and made racist comments about Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s name (“Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?”).

He also issued a lengthy statement about Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), whose stock is rising within the party — and at Rupert Murdoch’s powerful media properties — after his 19-point blowout on Tuesday. (In the statement, Trump bizarrely suggested that he had meddled in the 2018 Florida governor’s race on DeSantis’ behalf and accused him of disloyalty for refusing to say he wouldn’t challenge Trump for the presidency in 2024.)

But lest you take any of that to assume that Trump has been rattled by the midterm results, he insisted in another post: “I am not at all angry (I wasn’t the one running!), and am very busy looking into the future. Remember, I am a ‘Stable Genius.’”

As GOP officials blame him for losses in a third consecutive election cycle, “Republican operatives, aides, and strategists are saying that Trump is at his weakest point since 5 p.m. on January 6th,” Tara Palmeri of Puck News is reporting.

Of course, Trump built back after January 6; he very well could do so again. But it’s not just his political standing that’s on the line; he also faces legal jeopardy from several sources.

There is the grand jury in Georgia, the Justice Department investigating him for January 6 and for mishandling classified documents (the latter probe is reportedly staffing up for a possible indictment), and a New York case where an independent monitor is about to be appointed to oversee his family business.

The Trump Organization is also currently on trial in a separate case; a top company official testified Thursday that Trump himself was aware of allegedly criminal tax schemes going on at the firm.

This is a man who has faced many political and legal headwinds before. But in his decades of staring down prosecutors, he has never had more investigators staring back at him. And in his relatively brief political career, he has never seen Republicans consolidate around a clear alternative the way they are around DeSantis right now.

Trump’s response to all of it? He has revealed plans to make a “special announcement” on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, widely expected to be a 2024 presidential campaign launch.

With Republican power centers lining up against him, Trump allies are signaling that his comeback bid will try to recapture his outsider message of 2016 and persuade the GOP base to once again reject what the party elites want for them.

As a senior Trump adviser told NBC’s Marc Caputo:

The media, the corporate elites, and political establishment has all moved in unison against Donald Trump at their own peril. It’s like they want to recreate 2015-2016. Let them. We are doing it again. Buckle up.”
Trump has never faced a threat within the Republican Party like Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Gage Skidmore)

Meanwhile, Republican congressional leaders are facing their fair share of finger-pointing. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the top House Republican and one of the leaders responsible for resurrecting Trump after January 6, will now have almost no margin of error in his bid for House speaker with Republicans poised to win a razor-thin majority.

Speakers are elected in a public House floor vote in January, with all 435 members able to weigh in; since no Democrats will vote for him, if McCarthy’s majority is just 220 seats — as NBC projects — defections from just three Republicans would deny him the top post.

At least two Republicans, Reps. Bob Good (R-VA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), have publicly suggested they’d back a challenge to McCarthy, while several other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have also declined to offer their support to him. “There’s not a soul in this town right now that has 218 votes,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a Freedom Caucus mainstay, told Bloomberg.

Here’s what Gaetz had to say on Twitter:

As you can see, the Floridian Trump ally — fresh off of a stalled sex trafficking investigation — is taking aim not just at his own chamber’s GOP leader, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel (née Romney) as well.

McConnell is engaged in his own round of finger-pointing, as he and Senate GOP campaign chairman Rick Scott (R-FL) trade blame for the upper chamber possibly slipping from Republicans’ grasp yet again. Per Politico, Scott was preparing to mount a long-shot bid to challenge McConnell as leader — with an announcement video already recorded and everything — but is now holding off after Tuesday’s disappointments.

In some ways, these machinations are akin to the GOP finally — in real-time and full public view — wrestling with the party’s national standing, after declining to hold an autopsy after losing the presidency in 2020. It was hard to have one, of course, when most party leaders went along with Trump’s insistence that he really won. This time around, almost every Republican has conceded their losses; the party is largely — and messily — owning up to its failures rather than rejecting reality.

For now, that soul-searching seems largely confined to personalities — Trump vs. DeSantis, McConnell vs. Scott, etc. — rather than engaging with the policy stances on issues such as abortion that likely led to their defeats.

However, much of the finger-pointing — and the fact that the losses are being acknowledged at all — suggests that the appetite for Trumpism among party leaders is at its lowest point in years. Whether the party base follows its leaders (never a sure bet) remains to be seen in the coming weeks and months.

Republicans are grappling with the futures of both Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy. (Shealah Craighead / Trump White House)

🚨 What else you should know

➞ Two pivotal Senate races remain uncalled. With 90% of the vote in, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is gaining on Republican Adam Laxalt in Nevada; he now leads by less than a percentage point, 48.97% to 48%.

In Arizona, with 82% reporting, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly has opened up a lead of 5.6 percentage points against Republican Blake Masters. The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman has seen enough to project the race in Kelly’s favor, although no major news outlets have made a projection.

➞ There is also the runoff in Georgia to gear up for. Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) is reportedly loaning his “door-knocking, data analytics, phone-banking and micro-targeting program” to the effort to boost Republican Herschel Walker’s campaign against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Kemp easily won re-election on Tuesday, while Walker struggled to knock off Warnock.

AP has declared the Oregon governor’s race for Democrat Tina Kotek, whose race became surprisingly close after a former Democrat launched a third-party bid. Kotek joins Massachusetts Democrat Maura Healey, who was also elected Tuesday, as the nation’s first two openly lesbian governors.

Sen. Mark Kelly is gaining in his re-election bid in Arizona. (Gage Skidmore)

President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which was already paused by a federal appeals court in Missouri, was struck down by a federal district judge in Texas on Thursday. The Justice Department has already said it will appeal the decision.

Ukrainian forces arrived in Kherson this morning, Russia withdrew from the key city this week in an embarrassing setback for Vladimir Putin’s war effort.

Twitter appears to be internally dissembling, as top executives depart after Elon Musk’s takeover and the billionaire warns that the company might have to declare bankruptcy. “Quite the day!” Musk tweeted on Thursday. The platform wields unmatched influence in elite political and media circles.

🗓 What your leaders are doing today

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.

Executive Branch

President Biden is in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Earlier this morning, he met with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (8:55 am). Later today, he will deliver remarks at the COP27 climate change conference (10:15 am) and then travel to Cambodia for the next leg of his trip.

Vice President Harris, First Lady Biden, and Second Gentleman Emhoff will attend a Veterans Day breakfast at the White House (9 am) and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (11 am). Harris will deliver remarks at the ceremony (11:15 am).

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Cambodia.

Legislative Branch

The House and Senate are not in session.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe