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GOP finger-pointing begins as control of Congress is still up in the air

Some Republicans blamed former President Donald Trump for endorsing poor candidates.
Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at Mar-a-lago
Former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday.Andrew Harnik / AP

As the political world settled in for a long wait to know who will control Congress, Republicans began finger-pointing Wednesday about whether former President Donald Trump was to blame for their lackluster election night.

Republicans could still take control of both the House and the Senate, but their predictions of a massive red wave sweeping the country fell short as some major Trump-backed candidates, like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, were defeated, while key races in Arizona and Nevada were still too close to call Wednesday.

The Georgia Senate race is headed to a December runoff, NBC News projects, making it increasingly likely that control of the upper chamber won't be decided until then.

"Now that it’s obvious the @gop should expel the Trump family from its future lexicon," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a Trump critic, tweeted Wednesday morning.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — who cited “candidate quality” as a concern in August while downplaying expectations of Republicans' taking control of the Senate — was asked by reporters Wednesday how he felt about the state of the race.

“I don’t deal in feelings. The question is they’ve got to count the votes and then we’ll figure out where we are,” McConnell said. 

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, told CNN that the rejection of so many of Trump's candidates shows that “this is a time that Donald Trump is no doubt in the rearview mirror, and it’s time to move on with the party, it’s time to move on with candidate quality.” 

"I think it sends a message to the country, along with some other states, that this is truly a pivot point for the Republican Party," he said.

Georgia's governor and secretary of state — Republicans Trump had campaigned against during the primary for not backing his bid to overturn election results in 2020 — both won re-election by comfortable margins. Trump's handpicked Senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, meanwhile, was trailing Sen. Raphael Warnock in a race that is headed for a runoff on Dec. 6.

NBC News projects that Duncan, who did not seek re-election, is being succeeded by Burt Jones, a Trump-endorsed Republican state senator who acted as a fake elector in Georgia after the 2020 election.

Other Trump-picked candidates had big nights, as well, among them the author J.D. Vance, who defeated Democrat Tim Ryan in the Ohio Senate race Tuesday night.

J.D. Vance speaks during the Ohio Republican Party election night watch party
J.D. Vance at an Ohio Republican Party election night watch party in Columbus on Tuesday.Paul Vernon / AFP via Getty Images

Trump hosted an election night party at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida that had been expected to be an opportunity for him to take credit for many of his endorsed candidates' scoring big victories. Instead, Trump gave a short, lackluster speech and then quietly watched the returns while eating dinner with a small group of close aides.

In an interview with NewsNation earlier Tuesday, Trump said he was responsible only for the party's successes, not its failures.

"I think if they win I should get all the credit, and if they lose, I should not be blamed at all, OK? But it will probably be just the opposite. When they win … I’ll probably be given very little credit, even though in many cases I told people to run and they ran and they turned out to very good candidates," he said.

"If they do badly, they’ll blame everything on me.”

On social media, Trump maintained that the election had been a huge success for him.

“174 wins and 9 losses, A GREAT EVENING, and the Fake News Media, together with their partner in crime, the Democrats, are doing everything possible to play it down. Amazing job by some really fantastic candidates!” he wrote Tuesday night on Truth Social.

He took a slightly less triumphant tone Wednesday, writing: "While in certain ways yesterday’s election was somewhat disappointing, from my personal standpoint it was a very big victory — 219 WINS and 16 Losses in the General — Who has ever done better than that?"

President Joe Biden said in an address from the White House that the predicted red wave "didn't happen" and that Election Day had been "a good day for democracy."

While "some good Democrats didn't win" and any lost seat is "painful," Biden said, overall voters "sent a clear and unmistakable message that they want to preserve our democracy and protect the right to choose."

Democrats' surprisingly strong showing inspired some introspection at Fox News, the cable news behemoth best known for aggressively defending Trump and the Republican political agenda.

Marc Thiessen, a conservative political commentator, said on the network Tuesday night that the unexpectedly weak showing for several GOP candidates was an "absolute disaster," a “searing indictment of the Republican Party” and a “searing indictment of the message that we have been sending to the voters.”

Thiessen listed a group of Republican governors who were handily re-elected Tuesday, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Texas’ Greg Abbott, describing described them as the “path to the future” for the party, in contrast to “radical candidates who ran far behind them.”

Meanwhile, Fox News’ website published an article about the criticism leveled at Trump over the GOP’s middling performance headlined “Trump blasted across media spectrum over Republicans’ midterms performance: 'Biggest loser tonight.'” It quoted commentators from other news networks who questioned Trump’s political judgment and electoral appeal.

The site also published a piece by Fox News contributor Liz Peek, an opinion columnist, declaring: “The biggest winner of the midterm elections was without a doubt Governor Ron DeSantis, whose landslide victory in the state of Florida was breathtaking.

"The biggest loser? Donald Trump, whose handpicked loyalist candidates in a number of races struggled to beat vulnerable Democrats.”

While several Republican candidates who denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election lost their races for positions that oversee, defend and certify elections in battleground states, one key Trump ally managed to hold on to his job Wednesday — NBC News projects that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., defeated Democrat Mandela Barnes in a close race.

Another Trump ally, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., was trailing Democrat Adam Frisch by a small margin Wednesday morning.

A top Democratic congressman was ousted, as well. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, conceded Wednesday to state Assemblyman Mike Lawler. 

Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas, tweeted: "It’s the candidates, stupid.

"Americans have made it clear that candidates matter. Character matters. The way we treat those with whom we disagree matters," Hurd wrote.

"We need strong leaders with integrity that can tackle the challenges of the future and lift people up. We have some that won big last night, but we need a helluva lot more if we want to win moving forward."

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton credited her party's success to women who were motivated by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion rights nationwide.

“It turns out women enjoy having human rights, and we vote,” she tweeted Wednesday morning.