Within the Republican Party, the battle is on to assign blame for a dismal showing in the 2022 midterm elections. A lot of fingers are being pointed – mostly at former President Donald Trump, or so it seems. How justified are the accusations, though? Trump wasn’t on the ballot. He currently holds no public office. The fate of Republican candidates and incumbents was firmly in the hands of their own respective campaigns, the Republican National Committee, and GOP leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. One nagging question does beg an answer; did the Republican establishment conspire to hang certain pro-Trump candidates out to dry with the goal of breaking his grip on the party?
Mitch McConnell and the Trumpers
The answer to another question now twists in the wind; given that Democrats have secured the 50 seats they needed to retain control of the Senate, will the GOP abandon Herschel Walker as he prepares to face incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock (GA) for the last remaining Senate seat? Walker was endorsed by Trump and remains loyal to him, even saying that he would welcome Trump on the campaign trail as others are pleading with the former president to stay away. Will the party leadership throw their weight – and, more importantly, their money – behind Walker to flip that Georgia seat and keep the Senate evenly split? Or will they abandon Walker, save themselves the money and be rid of another pro-Trumper? After all, even if Walker wins, the Democrats remain in control by virtue of the Senate president’s tie-breaking vote – and that’s Kamala Harris.
Outside the ranks of congressional Republicans – and increasingly within those ranks – many are saying the GOP leaders have failed. Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has been singled out for withering criticism. His decision to pull financial support from Blake Masters, who had a real shot at unseating Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in Arizona, might have been fatal to GOP hopes of capturing the Senate. Kelly was widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year. “The people who control the purse strings, Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell – McConnell decided to spend millions of dollars attacking a fellow Republican in Alaska instead of helping me defeat Senator Mark Kelly,” Masters told Fox News on Nov. 11 before his race was called for his opponent.
The Republican candidate was referring to McConnell’s efforts to ensure that an old pal of his – another establishment Swamp-dweller – Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) wins out against her closest rival, Republican Kelly Tshibaka. For most conservatives, this is particularly galling because Murkowski has a history of voting with Democrats on many of the most significant bills that have landed on the Senate floor. Tshibaka is ahead in the race for the Alaska seat but because neither candidate has reached 50%, the winner will be decided by the bizarre “ranked choice voting” system adopted recently by the state. Tshibaka was endorsed by both Trump and the Alaska Republican Party.
Mr. Trump himself also took issue with the Senate GOP leader’s selective use of campaign funds as well as his performance in general. “It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault,” he said on his Truth Social platform. “Spending money to defeat great Republican candidates instead of backing Blake Masters and others was a big mistake. Giving 4 Trillion Dollars to the Radical Left for the Green New Deal, not Infrastructure, was an even bigger mistake.”
The odds are probably good that both Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will remain in their respective leadership positions because that’s how the Republican establishment rolls; it resists change even after epic failures. For McCarthy, that means assuming the speaker’s gavel if all goes to plan for the GOP in the remaining House races. The party establishment was never comfortable with Trump precisely because it knew he planned to break the old guard and the old ways of doing business. Trump is almost universally expected to announce his intention to run for president in 2024. If, and when, he does, he will surely find out in short order how many allies he still has in the GOP – and how many will try to prevent him from claiming the presidential nomination which, regardless of the results of the midterms, still appears to be his to win – or lose.
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