Republicans Wednesday are struggling to make sense of lackluster election returns after months of predictions about a “red wave,” while finger-pointing and questions about the party’s future abound.
The blame game is already erupting between the pro-Trump and anti-Trump wings of the party. Other Republicans, meanwhile, say they’re simply confused about what happened at the ballot box.
“Clearly something was off, I mean a target was missed,” a House GOP aide told Fox News Digital early Wednesday morning. “Was it polling, was it the issues that we thought people cared about?”
“The question that should be asked, assuming Republicans still take the House, is ‘What is our mandate and what do we do?’” the aide said. “That’s what’s probably going to keep me up tonight.”
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Republicans are expected to take the House, though with a smaller majority than expected. The Senate remains a toss-up, with results in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona so far unclear.
But that isn’t stopping internal recriminations. Trump’s opponents say the former president and his claims about the 2020 presidential election were likely a drag on the party that had advantages in a poor economy and low approval ratings for President Biden.
“I think there is a growing sentiment out there among Republicans that the candidates who were seen as election deniers did not do well tonight,” Republican consultant Brendan Steinhauser told Fox News Digital.
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“If it wasn’t clear before it should be now. We have a Trump problem,” a House GOP lawmaker told Fox News.
“Turns out candidate quality matters,” another GOP source said.
“Trump is killing them with independents,” a Republican source with ties to Congress and the former administration said.
Trump’s team, meanwhile, blamed establishment Republicans for strategic blunders and shunning some of Trump’s preferred candidates who lost.
“It was a big night for President Trump’s endorsed candidates. Out of the races that have been called, President Trump has racked up over 215 wins for his endorsements,” a Trump spokesperson told Fox News. “McConnell, on the other hand, whose job is to support Senate candidates, abandoned winnable races in New Hampshire and Arizona, and still the Arizona race is too close to call.”
Sources close to Trump also said they believe the media is trying to raise DeSantis’ profile to build drama for a 2024 primary race.
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R Street Institute senior fellow for governance James Wallner, meanwhile, said Republicans would be smart to take a step back and examine races on an individual level rather than a national one. Each district has its own dynamics and there was a “mixed bag” of some GOP successes Tuesday.
“If you look at these races individually, I think there’s probably a lot more explanatory kind of value than there is just by looking at like, say, Trump,” Wallner said.
Any grappling among Republicans about how they want to move forward will likely have to happen quickly, as the 2024 election cycle is set to get started in just days.
Trump is set to make a “big” announcement at his Florida Mar-a-Lago estate Tuesday, which is widely expected to be the announcement for his 2024 presidential campaign.
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But it appears Trump’s most significant likely 2024 rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, could be carrying more momentum than anticipated from the midterms. He romped to a victory in his state, defying the national trend of Republicans underperforming.
“DeSantis and [Greg] Abbott winning big in Florida and Texas will set up inevitable conversations about the future of the party,” Steinhauser, the GOP consultant, said.
“The big one that everybody I talked to, is like, Florida sent a very clear message about what the future looks like,” the House GOP aide said.
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There will also be questions in the House of Representatives about party leadership, with one GOP source telling Fox News many members are “thinking to themselves that we need new energized leadership.”
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the front-runner for speaker in a GOP majority. But far-right lawmakers who are suspicious of McCarthy will have significant leverage in leadership elections, and his margin of error for defections in a House floor vote will be small.