Column: The biggest losers — the GOP and Donald Trump
What a well-deserved irony: For a party that all but certainly will win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party is the big loser of the 2022 midterm elections, second only to Donald Trump.
Those two facts are related, of course. Had party “leaders” cut ties to Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection he incited — as a healthy, pro-democracy party would have — Republicans might well have romped in elections across the nation. They had predicted they would, and they had more than a century of history on their side: With rare exceptions, big midterm victories go to the party that doesn’t hold the White House.
For the record:
8:55 p.m. Nov. 9, 2022An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that the Republicans lost their Senate majority in 2018. It was 2020.
But Republicans didn’t romp. Instead of a red wave, they walked into a “red wedding,” as right-wing provocateur Ben Shapiro lamented. Drudge, the right-leaning website, headlined “Republicans in Shock … Toxic Trump in MAGA Meltdown … Fox News Freaks.”
Karma is a bitch.
Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.
Now that we’ve held the first federal elections since Trump’s attempted coup, it’s worth reviewing what Republican “leaders” did do after the Capitol siege. Rep. “My Kevin” McCarthy, the House Republican leader from California, hightailed it to Mar-a-Lago to beg Trump’s forgiveness after an initial condemnation of him and the insurrection. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell engineered Trump’s acquittal in the Senate trial after the House impeached him. Then earlier this year, in doublespeak that would have made Orwell blush, the Republican National Committee officially declared the Jan. 6 protests “legitimate political discourse.”
Well, it turns out most voters actually value democracy more than Republicans do. And more than some pre-election signs had suggested. (Yes, once again voters humbled many polls and pundits.)
Despite some criticism of Democrats’ — and President Biden’s — focus on the issue, 44% of voters told surveyors for AP VoteCast that the future of democracy was the most important consideration behind their choices. It came in second to inflation, cited by 50% of the respondents.
Little wonder, then, that a Republican Party that nominated nearly 300 election deniers for Congress and top statewide offices would fall short of its highfalutin hopes. Scores of Big Lie proponents won in safely red districts and states, but scores lost, some unexpectedly. Like those candidates, the party has linked itself to a narcissistic, seditious loser and it paid the inevitable price.
Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield is still favored to become the next House speaker, but his possible majority looks much smaller than expected.
Consider: After Trump won the presidency in 2016 (despite losing the popular vote), he’s lost in every election cycle since. The 2018 midterm elections were a referendum on his erratic, divisive record and Republicans lost their House majority. In 2020, he lost reelection and Republican senators their majority. Yes, that’s a fact. After that unprecedented record of losses — House, Senate and White House — a normal party would have divorced him.
But of course, the Republican Party didn’t and now we have 2022. Trump’s selfish insistence on making the midterms about him rather than the unpopular Biden — even teasing a possible re-run for president on election eve — helped depress what might have been big Republican gains. His and other Republicans’ mockery of the recent bludgeoning of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, couldn’t have helped.
Final election results are days or even a month away, when Georgia has to hold a Senate runoff. But Democrats won battleground-state governorships that Republicans thought were in the bag. They are favored to hold the Senate. And Republicans’ new House majority will be so narrow that McCarthy could face a threat from the right or left to his dream of becoming speaker. On Wednesday, renegade Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger suggested House Democrats try to enlist the few non-Trumpy Republicans to join them to elect an alternative speaker, someone more moderate, someone who’s not a Trump sycophant.
But let’s say My Kevin does become speaker. His small majority will leave him beholden to the House’s MAGA wing; the crazy caucus’ Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has said as much. “No. 1, we need to impeach Joe Biden,” she pronounced last month, and impeachments of his Homeland Security secretary and attorney general would be next, she said.
John Fetterman, who campaigned after suffering a stroke, defeats Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz in a Senate race marked by attacks and trolling.
And you thought Republicans’ priorities were bringing down inflation and crime? Silly you.
We’ve seen this movie before, from the Gingrich Republicans in the mid-’90s and the tea party Republicans in the mid-aughts: Republicans’ overreach and their extremism repels voters, playing into Democrats’ hands for the next election.
As Republicans look to 2024, they again face a test: Will they finally say no to the self-described MAGA king? In the coming days, will they publicly disavow his inevitable and dangerous conspiracy mongering about election fraud to explain away the losses among MAGA candidates?
The initial signs aren’t good. Axios reported early Wednesday that, among Republican insiders, Trump “is facing waves of blame.” But here’s the problem: That blame, as usual, is coming from anonymous sources. No Republicans of note spoke out this week when Trump ridiculously said, “If they win, I should get all the credit. And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all.”
Their silence enables Trump. Might the conservative media give the cowards a nudge? The inimitable front page of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid New York Post on Wednesday celebrated the landslide reelection of Gov. Ron DeSantis in now certifiably red Florida with a photo of the governor and his lovely family above the headline: “DeFuture.”
The Exile of Mar-a-Lago could not have liked that elevation of his new nemesis. Lots of Republicans did, however. But only privately, of course.
Until party honchos at all levels go public, Trump will remain the de facto Republican leader. And he’ll lead them to more losses.
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