How many winnable elections are Republicans willing to lose because of Trump's ego?

Herschel Walker’s defeat in Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia was as predictable as it was avoidable. Even before the 2022 election cycle got under way, smart observers of Georgia politics predicted the following: If the former Georgia football star ran for Senate, he would be unbeatable in the Republican primary, but would have a tough time in the general election given his enormous personal baggage and thin grasp of politics and policy. Nonetheless, Donald Trump recruited Walker into the race because he was a celebrity who was loyal to him. Most Republicans went along, either banking on Walker’s celebrity or considering it futile to fight him. And last night, as Walker lost a runoff to progressive Democrat Raphael Warnock in an otherwise red state, we got yet another reminder of how destructive it would be for the Republican Party to tie its future to Trump.

As most readers will recall, in the 2020 election, Trump lost Georgia in the presidential election, but Republicans still had a chance to retain the Senate were they to hold onto just one of the two Senate seats that were going to a runoff. This should have been an easy task, considering that David Perdue had beaten Jon Ossoff by nearly two points in the general election, coming just about three-tenths of a point away from avoiding a runoff. Instead of uniting the party with the goal of retaining the Senate and providing Republicans with a veto over President Biden’s radical agenda, Trump spent the crucial period before the runoff election perpetuating fantasies that the election was stolen, insisting that Georgia voting was rigged, and attacking fellow Republicans led by Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in an effort to pressure them into trying to overturn the will of the voters. It isn’t surprising that Republicans lost both Senate seats amid depressed Republican turnout, and Democrats gained narrow control of the Senate. The destructive real-world consequences of this became quickly clear when Democrats passed an inflationary $1.9 trillion spending plan shortly after Biden took office.

Trump went into the 2022 election with the goal of defeating Kemp and Raffensperger in the Republican primary, an effort that proved unsuccessful. But he did succeed in convincing Walker to run. Walker, who had a troubled personal background and struggled to answer basic questions about his political positions, exemplified the drawbacks of Trump-backed candidates.

There are, no doubt, a multitude of reasons to explain Walker’s loss. He was heavily outspent by Warnock, a testament to the fact that Republicans have yet to replicate the success of the Democrats’ Act Blue fundraising apparatus. It also reflects unwillingness of Republicans to develop a strategy around mail-in and early voting, which, again, is not helped by Trump’s repeated claims that these methods are hopelessly corrupt. Republicans can complain about it all they want, but both methods are here to stay in some form, and Republicans better find a way to compete with Democrats on this front or they’ll continue to lose close elections.

All of that said, other Republicans in the state were playing on the same field as Walker, and every other Republican running statewide won. Kemp was reelected by eight points, and Raffensperger by nine. Republicans also comfortably won races for lieutenant governor; attorney general; commissioner of agriculture; commissioner of insurance; school superintendent; and commissioner of labor. Republicans also significantly outpolled Democrats in holding both houses of the state legislature and nine of its 14 House seats. And yet Walker lost by somewhere between two to four points, as swing voters who voted for other Republicans ran away from him.

Georgia, of course, is not an isolated example. In Arizona, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost Senate races that could have been won, and the same was true across the country in congressional districts and governor’s races. When the primary qualification for the Republican nomination is loyalty to Trump, it not only saddles the Republican nominee with unpopular positions, but also forecloses the normal vetting process that occurs during competitive primaries that are supposed to weed out bad candidates. In 2024, Republican voters are going to have to decide how many winnable elections they are willing to lose to massage a single man’s bruised ego.

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