The 2022 midterm elections were, by any objective measure, tremendously disappointing for Republicans. As has already been discussed ad nauseam, the “red wave” that so many—yours truly included—had predicted simply did not materialize. The reasons for that are numerous; no one individual, one institution, or one specific systemic failure is to blame. There is, in short, a lot of blame to go around here. Because while Republicans actually won the national popular vote by roughly four points, there is no way to describe their historically awful first-presidential-term opposition-party midterm performance, in which the GOP lost almost every high-profile state-level “swing” race, as anything other than disastrous.
One clear reason for Republicans’ setback is the extent to which they were thoroughly outcompeted by Democrats when it comes to the most bare-bones, brass tacks elements of modern politics. Specifically, when it came to party and candidate-specific fundraising, as well as early vote/vote-by-mail mobilization and the mechanics of ballot harvesting/get-out-the-vote operations, the GOP was outperformed, outclassed, and left in the dust. It is pretty embarrassing that one of America’s major two political parties seems clueless about how to execute on 21st-century American politics, but here we are.
Moving forward, the Republican National Committee and the various other organs of the Republican Party establishment would, if they were remotely serious about winning elections, engage in deep introspection and enact concrete changes. Alas, early signs are not promising. The milquetoast Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) won his bid for House majority whip; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was retained as Senate minority leader; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appears on track for the House speakership come January; RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel is poised to remain ensconced in her sinecure. As the perhaps-apocryphal bon mot often attributed to Talleyrand goes, “They have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing.”
To an extent, the GOP needs to figure out how to fundraise better and implement a better voter targeting/ballot harvesting operation before any other conversation becomes pertinent. To wit, there is perhaps little point in discussing 2024 unless and until the GOP makes the necessary operational changes to give its presidential candidate a viable chance at winning. But the reason that the topic of 2024 must be broached is that one of the reasons—not the sole reason, but very much a reason—for the GOP’s lackluster 2022 performance has himself already done precisely that.
I speak, of course, about former President Donald Trump, who announced his 2024 presidential candidacy Tuesday evening at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump announced his candidacy, in uncharacteristically subdued fashion, precisely one week after he indisputably harmed Republican electoral prospects across the country. An analysis from The New York Times’ Nate Cohn, based on underlying data from The Cook Political Report’s primary scoreboard data, concluded that the “Trump effect” at the ballot box this cycle amounted to a five-point penalty compared with other Republicans. Specifically, while Cohn showed that Republicans nationwide ran an average of 5.6% ahead of their 2020 vote margin, what he dubbed so-called “MAGA candidates” ran only 0.7% ahead—thus, a 4.9% differential.
Any number of high-profile statewide races anecdotally bear this out. In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu outperformed Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc by 13 points; in Pennsylvania, “ultra-MAGA” Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano got blown out by Josh Shapiro, and underperformed (fellow Trump endorsee and 2022 loser) Dr. Mehmet Oz; in Georgia, Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker ran well behind Gov. Brian Kemp, who cruised to reelection; in Arizona, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake underperformed the statewide Republican voter share by six points. Trump lost many other high-profile House races as well, such as Bo Hines in North Carolina, John Gibbs in Michigan, and Joe Kent in Washington State.
True, there are other competing data points, such as anti-Trump Joe O’Dea’s huge defeat in Colorado, but the bottom-line conclusion is clear enough: Trump did the GOP no favors this election. Republicans lost the national independent vote, astonishingly lost even those voters who told pollsters they “somewhat disapprove” of President Joe Biden, and were simply annihilated in the “unmarried women” demographic. The GOP has many other problems right now, but it is still clear that the latest incarnation of Trump-style politicking, focused as it is on relitigating the 2020 presidential election to an unhealthy extent and fighting petty personal battles, was rejected by the electorate in what should have been a breakthrough “red wave” year. That a huge “red wave” was likely never in the offing due to the aforementioned structural reasons does not negate the fact that Trump still brought down the party, relative to what the results might have still otherwise been. Trump fatigue, in short, is real.
Crucially, that fatigue effect is not limited to independents, other middle-ground “persuadables,” and donor class types; large swaths of the Republican base itself have, at this point, simply had enough of the constant drama. Poll after poll taken since the election shows Republican voters moving in droves away from Trump and toward his top perceived (though yet unannounced) rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did oversee a legitimate (Florida-wide) red wave this month. An Economist/YouGov national poll released Wednesday shows DeSantis up 46%-39% over Trump among Republicans, and various other post-Election Day statewide Republican polls show DeSantis similarly up over Trump in Texas (43%-32%), Iowa (48%-37%), New Hampshire (52%-37%), Florida (56%-30%), and Georgia (55%-35%).
Trump’s inner circle appears to be of the belief that other possible 2024 candidates must yield to the former president, and that doing otherwise would be “disloyal.” They maintain this while Trump himself throws schoolyard insults at the extraordinarily popular DeSantis, mocking him repeatedly as “Ron DeSanctimonious,” and veers off on other diatribes against popular Republicans, including a truly bizarre social media post about Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (entirely normal) surname. All the while, substantive issues usually take a backseat to an intense focus on “stop the steal” and otherer flavors of “doomerism,” more broadly.
Shaming the Republican base into blindly standing by a past president with such a checkered electoral record, no questions asked, is not going to cut it. The 2024 Republican presidential race, which currently features precisely one declared candidate, is wide open. And according to most post-Election Day polls, the Republican electorate is embracing a different vision for the GOP’s future: one that is, like the “Florida model,” based on a positive, affirmative vision of fighting the relevant issues of our time and improving the lives of the citizenry.
Who can blame them?
Josh Hammer is Newsweek opinion editor, host of “The Josh Hammer Show,” a syndicated columnist, and a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation. Twitter: @josh_hammer.