Republicans in battleground states and elsewhere — bruised by massive losses for a third straight election — are shifting the blame in a direction they once hesitated to point: toward former President Donald Trump.
“Personalities come and go,” said Dave Ball, the GOP chairman in Pennsylvania’s Washington County who has supported and defended Trump. “Sometimes you stayed welcome longer. You have new people, new faces and sometimes you have to keep up with the times.”
In interviews, more than two dozen state GOP leaders, elected officials and agents said Trump’s heavy involvement in midterm contests up and down the vote doomed them in swing states, leaving the blue wall of Democrats in Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest intact and costing them a Nevada Senate seat to win. Trump loomed large in voters’ minds, exit polls showed, and in many key races, voters rejected his hand-picked candidates.
Those Republicans, including those who supported him in the past and others who tolerated him but rarely spoke out publicly, said they increasingly see Trump and Trumpism as losing propositions and would rather he didn’t run for president again in 2024. Trump is gearing up to do just that, with an announcement on Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Trump isn’t the only Republican under scrutiny for the party’s midterm failures. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the Senate National Republican Committee, have also drawn criticism for the candidates they support and the money they spend. But Trump, who once assured his followers that if they stayed with him they would be “tired of winning,” is seeing the state and local level losses pile up.
Others argue that Trump himself may no longer be a winner.
“If it’s Trump versus DeSantis in Wisconsin, DeSantis would win,” said Brandon Scholz, a former Wisconsin GOP chairman, referring to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who won re-election in a landslide and has drawn Trump’s wrath by positioning itself as an alternative for 2024.
Wisconsin voters last week gave a new term to their Democratic governor, Tony Evers, while denying Republicans a supermajority in the General Assembly — a major blow to Republicans eager to override vetoes. In Pennsylvania, in addition to losing races for governor and senate, the GOP is on the verge of losing the state house for the first time in more than a decade. And the wreckage is especially deep in Michigan, where voters re-elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, rejected a string of election deniers backed by Trump, and gave Democrats control of both chambers of the legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. All three states switched to Joe Biden in 2020 after favoring Trump in 2016.
In Illinois, Republicans had threatened to take two seats on the state Supreme Court and flip seats in the state Senate and House. Instead, with a Trump-backed candidate for governor at the top of the ticket, things turned even deeper blue. Jim Durkin, the state’s longtime GOP leader who decided to resign after last week’s results came in worse than expected, said “Trump stopped the wave” and is “fully responsible” for losses across the country.
“Trump will say we’re a bunch of RINOs,” Durkin said, referring to the pejoratively used acronym for “Republicans in name only.” “No, we’re Republicans who want to win races.”
Not everyone is pointing the finger at Trump. JD Vance, a Trump-backed Republican who won a Senate race in Ohio, wrote in a recent op-ed that blaming Trump for a disappointing midterm performance is wrong. Instead, he argued, the Republicans’ financial deficit and their inability to vote were the real problems.
“The point is not that Trump is perfect,” Vance wrote in The American Conservative, adding, “But any attempt to blame Trump, and not on money and voter turnout, is not just wrong. It distracts from the actual issues that we as a party must solve for the long term.”
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Even some Trump allies envision a dark future with Trump as their standard bearer. Mike Detmer, a Trump-backed Michigan senate candidate who lost his primary, said he is pessimistic.
“I don’t think Michigan will see red for a long, long time,” said Detmer, who predicted an exodus of Republicans from the state. “In fact, I think Michigan will be a blue state politically for the foreseeable future.” He added, to put it more precisely, “I don’t think Michigan will be in the game for Trump in 2024.”
Paul Cordes, the Michigan GOP chief of staff, expressed similar concerns in a memo after the election. Thanks in part to Trump’s public hazing of her, Whitmer gained a national profile that made her a major GOP target. Even without the governor’s mansion, Republicans wielded considerable power while controlling the legislature. But last week, voters stripped them out of power in all three branches of government.
“Over the course of this cycle, the Michigan Republican Party operated within the political reality that President Trump was popular among our ranks and a motivating factor for his supporters, but presented challenges in a statewide vote, especially with independents and women in midterm elections. Cordes wrote, referring to Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator who lost by double digits to Whitmer, and right-wing candidates for attorney general and secretary of state.
“As a party, we were consistently navigating the power struggle between Trump and anti-Trump factions of the party, mostly within the donor class,” Cordes added. “That power struggle ended up with too many people on the sidelines and hurt Republicans in key races.”
Another veteran of GOP campaigns in Michigan worried that state party officials, including co-chair Meshawn Maddock, were not taking the losses seriously enough.
“Since Trump was elected, we have lost the state Supreme Court, lost all of the executive branch and all of the legislature,” said the source, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the internal political dynamics. Meshawn Maddock does on Twitter bragging last night about winning the school board election. Like, dude, none of that matters.
Maddock, a Trump ally who did not respond to requests for comment, has been a common denominator in assessments of the Michigan GOP outage.
“It felt like the Republican Party here, with Meshawn Maddock taking over as party co-chair, went full Trump and full culture war, and they started losing in places like where I represent,” said state senator Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat who runs in 2018 flipped a Republican seat.
In Pennsylvania, GOP leaders had hoped to at least hold on to the vacant seat by retiring Senator Pat Toomey. Trump threw himself into the primary, endorsing far-right Senator Doug Mastriano for governor and Mehmet Oz, a famous physician, for Senate. He rallied for both three days before the general election in Westmoreland County, a crucial red bastion outside Pittsburgh. But Mastriano was crushed in a landslide by Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, while Oz lost a closer race against Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Both underperformed Trump’s 2020 numbers in Westmoreland County.
“As for the governor’s office, there’s no way a candidate could lose by double digits in a red year,” said David La Torre, a GOP adviser in Pennsylvania. “And that really says how poor our candidates were and how much Trump interfered in our primary process.”
Morgan Boyd, a Republican member of the Lawrence County Commission in western Pennsylvania, called the election the “beginning of the end of the Trump era.”
“You see Trump’s influence over the Republican Party weakening,” said Boyd, who supported Shapiro in the gubernatorial race and Oz in the Senate race. “It’s time he passed the torch to more mainstream, traditional Republican candidates.”
Concerns about Trump extend beyond Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest to other battlegrounds, including Nevada, one of the first states on the 2024 primary calendar. Trump lost the state by slim margins in 2016 and 2020. And while Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was reelected last week, Republican Joe Lombardo fired Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak — in one of the few bright spots for the GOP.
Amy Tarkanian, a former Nevada GOP chairman, endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020. Nevertheless, she called on the former president to pave the way for a new wave of leaders.
“People are ready for a statesman, someone who has the policies he’s implemented, but with a very different tone and attitude,” said Tarkanian, who warned that a Trump announcement for 2024 this week would distract from next month’s Senate ballot in Georgia, where Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP rival Herschel Warnock must run again after both finished below the required 50% threshold in last week’s general election.
“If it’s not all hands on deck for Herschel Walker and the conversation turns to Donald Trump,” Tarkanian said, “we’re screwed.”