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McConnell says Trump fueled 'candidate quality' problems in the midterms

The Senate Republican leader said he had "limited" control over 2022 nominees because "the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries."

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that former President Donald Trump’s endorsements in important 2022 primaries contributed to the nominations of poor candidates who fell short in swing states.

He made the remarks at his weekly news conference, responding to a question from NBC News about whether he intends to play a more active role in selecting candidates in the 2024 election cycle, when Republicans have a friendlier map.

“We ended up having a candidate quality test,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters about the 2022 election. “Look at Arizona. Look at New Hampshire. And the challenging situation in Georgia, as well,” he said, mentioning states where Trump-endorsed candidates won their primaries and lost to Democrats in the general election.

In a rare move, McConnell explicitly identified Trump’s influence as being problematic in the key Senate races.

“Our ability to control the primary outcome was quite limited in ’22 because the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries. So my view was do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. Now, hopefully, in the next cycle we’ll have quality candidates everywhere and a better outcome.”

McConnell said he saw an element of déjà vu from 2010 and 2012, when Republicans picked poor candidates and lost winnable races.

“I do think we have an opportunity to relearn, one more time: We have to have quality candidates to win in competitive Senate races. We went through this in 2010 and 2012 with Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock," he said, naming GOP candidates who lost their races. "And unfortunately we revisited that situation in 2022.”

By contrast, McConnell said his aligned super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, intervened to select preferred candidates in Alabama and Missouri, two red states the GOP won this year.

He added, “Looking back at ’22 — some of you may recall, I never said there was a red wave.”