Trump setting himself up to take credit for GOP midterm rout

Former President Trump is setting himself up to take credit for Republican midterm victories next week as he eyes the announcement of a possible 2024 reelection bid before the end of the year.

Trump is holding rallies over the next week in Iowa — an early 2024 primary state — as well as the key presidential battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The effort is designed to put him in the public eye in the final stretches of the midterms, and preserve the ability for him to take credit if various candidates he’s backed come out strong.

There is risk to the approach, as many of Trump’s favorites are not guaranteed success. Losses in various races could put a blemish on the Trump record, and if Republicans fail to win the Senate, many will blame Trump.

Yet it also sets the former president to take credit for big GOP victories, which he and his supporters hope he can use to build momentum toward a 2024 run.

“I think Trump, at the very minimum, is preserving the option to run, and he’s setting himself up with a credible, believable narrative that he’s the one that put us over the edge,” said John Thomas, a GOP consultant working on midterm races.

“I could see a strong argument against Trump, even if he’s running, if Republicans did not take both chambers back. You could in part blame Trump and say we need a new kind of leader,” Thomas added. “But if we take both chambers, Trump is going to take credit.”

Trump’s hand-picked Senate candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia are all in competitive races. A super PAC backed by the former president has spent millions of dollars in recent weeks to boost Republicans in key states.

Republican strategists and former Trump campaign officials suggested Trump might try to seize on the momentum from a strong Republican showing next week.

While the GOP appears poised to retake the majority in the House, how a handful of candidates backed by Trump fare could ultimately determine which party controls the Senate.

In Arizona, Trump has thrown his weight behind Republican Blake Masters, who is in a close race with Sen. Mark Kelly (D). The former president’s endorsement was key in helping Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance (R) and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz (R) advance through their respective primaries. Trump also essentially cleared the field in Georgia for Herschel Walker’s (R) Senate campaign.

“I think we have a chance of picking up the Senate. If you would have asked me that question three months ago, I would not have said that. I think we have a chance,” Trump said in an interview aired Tuesday with conservative radio host Chris Stigall.

Trump also has a stake in some key governor races.

The former president backed Kari Lake in Arizona and Tim Michels in Wisconsin, both of whom faced primary challengers supported by establishment Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence, outgoing Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Polling has shown Vance with a narrow but consistent lead in Ohio, as well as tightening races in each of the other states.

Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to the Trump 2016 campaign, argued the former president’s night hinges largely on what happens in Arizona and Pennsylvania, given that Ohio has been solidly Republican in recent cycles and Georgia may go to a runoff election.

“You’re looking at a lot of key Senate races where his endorsement was the difference and these nominees pulled it out,” Nunberg said. “The trend line right now is he’s going to have a lot to be happy about. That doesn’t mean he deserves all the credit for the general, but he’ll take it.”

While Tuesday has the potential to be a big night for Trump and the GOP, if Republicans underperform in Senate races in particular, it could reflect poorly on the former president.

If Masters, Oz and Walker all lose, some in the party may argue that it was Trump’s hand-picked candidates who came up short and cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Trump, for his part, is almost certain to blame any defeat in the Senate on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who did not vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial but broke with the former president in a fiery speech about his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Many Republican strategists are also of the belief that Trump would not be deserving of all the credit for pushing Republicans over the top, even if they do have a very good night. 

Some in the party were frustrated earlier this year that Trump was not using the mountain of cash from his super PAC to boost GOP candidates as Democrats rode a summer polling surge, and other party leaders like Pence, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have also campaigned alongside candidates in key battleground states.

Still, a good night for the GOP in next week’s elections could serve as a prelude to a 2024 announcement by Trump.

The president had weighed making an announcement about a 2024 campaign as early as last summer, according to sources familiar with the discussions, but ultimately opted against it. Trump might have a tougher time resisting an announcement before the end of the year, however.

Those officials also noted it could prove difficult for Trump to sit idly by as other would-be candidates start to lay the groundwork for their own campaigns, sucking up media attention and courting donors.

Other Republicans, such as Pence, DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), Sen Tom Cotton (Ark.) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are all seen as possible 2024 candidates. And the GOP primary is likely to begin in earnest within weeks of the midterms coming to a close.

“I see more benefit than not for [Trump] to announce earlier rather than later,” said Thomas, the GOP consultant. “Waiting assures him he’s going to have to navigate a gauntlet that announcing early might insulate him from.”

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