Republicans start playing the midterm blame game

Republicans are pointing fingers after a disappointing midterms that has left Democrats crowing and GOP aides and strategists blaming former President Trump for their failure to convincingly win House and Senate majorities.

The battles for both chambers were still too close to call on Wednesday evening, with Republicans favored to win what increasingly looks like a narrow majority in the House. Democrats have a decent chance of keeping their Senate majority, which may be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia.

The GOP blame was being widely spread on Wednesday evening, with some pointing at inexperienced candidates making rookie mistakes, and others privately calling for an audit of how the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised and spent money under chairman Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.). 

Several strategists say that Trump’s imprint on the Senate and House races hurt more than it helped and raises serious questions about his viability as a presidential candidate in 2024.  

“How could you look at these results tonight and conclude Trump has any chance of winning a national election in 2024?” tweeted Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who has advised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) past campaigns.  

“Despite the fact that 70 percent of the country thinks we’re on the wrong track, two thirds think we’re in a recession, people are pessimistic about the future, and people largely believe Biden’s policies are hurting, not helping, they still opted to stick with that over the alternative, which I’m afraid they associate with Trump,” he said.  

McConnell stayed largely quiet on Wednesday as election officials in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada continued to count ballots.

Asked how he felt about the results, he told a reporter for ABC News: “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.”  

Trump told NewsNation in an interview that aired Tuesday that he shouldn’t get any blame if Republican candidates failed to win. 

“Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit,” he said. “And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all. But it will probably be just the opposite.”

GOP strategists say their candidates should have done much better Tuesday given that exit polls showed that 73 percent of voters said they were dissatisfied or angry about the way things are going in the country today.  

“Republicans should have run away with this election. With inflation at a 40-year high, with crime out of control in many cities, with the border not secure and with Joe Biden’s job approval in the low 40s, this election should have been a cakewalk for Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. 

He blamed the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, saying it was a top issue for younger voters. 

“The other factor was the proliferation of weak Republican Senate candidates that Donald Trump dragged through Republican primaries. Continually those Senate Republican candidates struggled as is often the case with inexperienced candidates running high-profile, high-pressure races,” he added.  

There’s still a chance Republicans could win in Nevada, Arizona and Georgia and control a 52-seat majority next year. But those odds don’t look terrific, and pale in comparison to hopes for the red wave. 

Scott told an audience last month in Greensboro, N.C., where he campaigned for Senate candidate Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), that he thought it was possible that Republicans could control between 52 and 55 seats next year.  

In the House, Democratic candidates exceeded expectations by winning in swing districts such as Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, where Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) won reelection, and in Michigan’s 7th District, where Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) won.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last year confidently predicted a 60-seat gain in the House. More recently House GOP sources offered a more cautious prediction of a 15-to-30 gain.  

NBC News on Wednesday was projecting that House Republicans would pick up nine seats, giving them a razor-thin majority to work with.  

Polls showing independent women voters shifting to Republicans amid concerns over inflation, the economy and crime buoyed GOP optimism.  

But exit polls showed voters also rated abortion rights as a top concern, trailing inflation by only a few percentage points. Fifty-three percent of voters said they trusted Democrats more on that issue.

A majority said they were not happy with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade in June. Twenty-one percent of voters said they were dissatisfied with the ruling and 39 percent said they were angry about it.  

One Senate Republican aide said Trump and conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down the right to an abortion, were to blame for the underperformance of GOP candidates.

“Donald Trump and Samuel Alito. They killed us. Trump picked terrible people and Alito riled up half of America,” the aide said.  

Other Republican strategists said that Senate candidates in some states, namely Pennsylvania and Arizona, were hampered by gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ticket who touted Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen.  

In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, who enthusiastically embraced Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, lost the Pennsylvania governor’s race by more than 700,000 votes and may have weighed down Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz.  

Retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc won the New Hampshire Senate Republican primary by touting Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen and then tried to reverse his position in the general election by claiming he had changed his mind “after a lot of research on this.”   

Bolduc was projected to lose to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) after trailing the incumbent by 53,000 votes with more than 95 percent of ballots counted. 

Trump endorsed Bolduc in late October but also dinged him for disavowing his narrative of the stolen 2020 election. Trump on Tuesday said Bolduc lost because he backed away from his claims of widespread election fraud.  

“Don Bolduc was a very nice guy, but he lost tonight when he disavowed, after his big primary win, his long-standing stance on Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Primary,” Trump wrote on his social-media platform, Truth Social. “Had he stayed strong and true, he would have won, easily.”

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