Republicans in battleground states and elsewhere — bruised by sweeping losses for a third straight election — are casting blame in a direction they were once reluctant to point: toward former President Donald Trump.
“Personalities come and go,” said Dave Ball, the GOP chair in Pennsylvania’s Washington County, who has supported and defended Trump. “Sometimes you have overstayed your welcome. You’ve got new people, new faces come, and you have to change with the times sometimes.”
In interviews, more than two dozen state GOP leaders, elected officials and operatives said Trump's heavy involvement in midterm contests up and down the ballot doomed them in swing states, leaving intact the Democrats’ blue wall in Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest and costing them a winnable Senate seat in Nevada. Trump loomed large in the minds of voters, 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 prefer he not run for president again in 2024. Trump is preparing to do just that, with a Tuesday announcement expected 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 Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also have faced criticism for the candidates they backed and the money they spent. But Trump, who once assured his followers that if they stuck with him they’d be “tired of winning,” is seeing losses at the state and local levels pile up.
Others contend that Trump himself may no longer be a winner.
“If it’s Trump vs. DeSantis in Wisconsin, DeSantis would win,” said Brandon Scholz, a former Wisconsin GOP chair, referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who won re-election in a landslide and has drawn Trump’s ire by positioning himself as a 2024 alternative.
Former President Trump expected to launch 2024 run for White HouseNov. 15, 202205:17
Wisconsin voters last week gave another term to their Democratic governor, Tony Evers, while denying the Republicans a supermajority in the General Assembly — a major blow for Republicans eager to override vetoes. In Pennsylvania, in addition to losing races for governor and the 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 particularly profound in Michigan, where voters re-elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, rejected a slate of election deniers backed by Trump and put Democrats in control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. All three states swung to Joe Biden in 2020 after having favored Trump in 2016.
In Illinois, Republicans had threatened to take two state Supreme Court seats and flip state Senate and House seats. Instead, with a Trump-backed candidate for governor at the top of the ticket, it turned even deeper blue. Jim Durkin, the longtime state House GOP leader, who decided to step down after last week’s results were worse than expected, said “Trump stopped the wave” and is “squarely in the blame” for losses nationwide.
“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 that want to win races.”
Not everyone is pointing the finger at Trump. J.D. Vance, a Trump-endorsed Republican who won a Senate race in Ohio, wrote in a recent opinion article that it’s wrong to blame Trump for an underwhelming midterm performance. Instead, he argued, Republicans’ financial deficit and their inability to turn out their vote were the real problems.
“The point is not that Trump is perfect,” Vance wrote in The American Conservative, adding: “But any effort to pin blame on Trump, and not on money and turnout, isn’t just wrong. It distracts from the actual issues we need to solve as a party over the long term.”
A spokesperson for Trump didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Even some Trump allies picture a dark future with Trump as their standard-bearer. Mike Detmer, a Trump-endorsed state Senate candidate in Michigan who lost his primary, said he is pessimistic Republicans will have any shot at picking up wins in his state after three election cycles that ended in defeat.
“I don’t think you’re going to see Michigan flip red for a long, long time,” Detmer said, predicting an exodus of Republicans from the state. “In fact, I think Michigan politically is going to be a blue state for the foreseeable future.” He added, to put a finer point on it: “I do not think Michigan is going to be in play for Trump in 2024.”
Paul Cordes, the chief of staff at the Michigan GOP, expressed similar concerns last week in a post-election memo. Whitmer, thanks in part to Trump’s public hazing of her, gained a national profile that made her a prime GOP target. Even without the Governor’s Mansion, Republicans wielded considerable power while controlling the Legislature. But last week, voters shut 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 amongst our grassroots and a motivating factor for his supporters, but provided challenges on a statewide ballot, especially with independents and women in a midterm election,” Cordes wrote, referring to Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator who lost to Whitmer by double digits, and right-wing candidates for attorney general and secretary of state.
“As a Party, we found ourselves 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 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, weren’t taking the losses seriously enough.
“Since Trump was elected, we lost the state Supreme Court, lost the entire executive branch and the entire legislative branch,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about internal political dynamics. “Meshawn Maddock was on Twitter last night bragging about winning school board elections. Like, dude, none of that matters.”
Maddock, a Trump ally who didn’t respond to requests for comment, was a common denominator in assessments of the GOP fallout in Michigan.
“It felt like the Republican Party here, with Meshawn Maddock taking over as the party co-chair, went full Trump and full culture war, and they started losing in places like where I represent,” said state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat who flipped a Republican seat in 2018.
In Pennsylvania, GOP leaders had hoped to at least hold on to the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey. Trump threw himself into the primaries, endorsing far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor and Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor, 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 Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Both underperformed Trump’s 2020 numbers in Westmoreland County.
“With regards to the governor’s office, there’s no way in a red year a candidate should lose by double digits,” said David La Torre, a GOP consultant in Pennsylvania. “And that really speaks to 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 age of Trump.”
“You’re seeing Trump’s influence on the Republican Party weaken,” said Boyd, who backed Shapiro in the governor’s race and Oz in the Senate race. “It’s time for him to pass the torch to more mainstream, traditional Republican candidates.”
The worries about Trump extend beyond Pennsylvania and the industrial Midwest, into other battlegrounds, including Nevada, one of the first states on the 2024 primary calendar. Trump lost the state by narrow margins in 2016 and 2020. And although Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was re-elected last week, Republican Joe Lombardo unseated Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak — in one of the few bright spots for the GOP.
Amy Tarkanian, a former Nevada GOP chair, backed Trump in 2016 and 2020. Nonetheless, she called on the former president to clear the path for a new wave of leaders.
“People are ready for a statesman, someone who has the policies that he implemented but with a much different tone and demeanor,” said Tarkanian, who warned that a Trump 2024 announcement this week would distract from next month’s Senate runoff in Georgia, where Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP rival Herschel Walker must face off 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 changes to Donald Trump,” Tarkanian said, “we’re screwed.”