AMAC Exclusive – By Seamus Brennan
In an Election Day interview, Donald Trump quipped something to the effect that if his endorsed candidates won on Tuesday, he should get all the credit, and that if they lost, he should get none of the blame. As Trump surely knew when he made the joke, what would actually happen on election night was always destined to be the exact opposite. From the moment the polls closed, the media pundits and establishment Republicans eager to dispatch the former president from the stage were working frantically to ensure that where Trump’s endorsed candidates lost, he would get all of the blame—and where they won, he would get none of the credit.
But this predictable attempt to make Donald Trump the scapegoat for closer-than-expected midterm election results is highly misleading, and an oversimplification in the extreme.
The results of Tuesday night’s elections do not tell an easy story for those looking to pin the blame on Trump.
Many Trump candidates—including J. D. Vance, Ted Budd, almost certainly Kari Lake and Adam Laxalt, potentially Blake Masters, and possibly (after the runoff) Herschel Walker—will have won their races in highly competitive swing states despite most being outspent by tens of millions of dollars.
Where Republican candidates faltered, it was not just those who were chosen by the former president: numerous strong House candidates handpicked by Kevin McCarthy lost races the consultant class had expected to win, including Yesli Vega running against vulnerable Democrat Representative Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, Rhode Island Republican Alan Fung, Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia on the Texas border, and many others.
If Washington, D.C. consultants and establishment leaders are truly looking for someone to blame for the lack of a red tsunami on Tuesday, there are far more suitable candidates than Trump. First among them would be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose allies appear to be behind much of the Blame Trump campaign.
Whatever virtues McConnell may have as a legislative tactician and fundraiser—and they are evidently considerable—the fact is that McConnell failed to use his power over the past two years to shape the political terrain in ways that would support an overwhelming Republican victory. Even worse, he actively undermined Republican candidates at critical junctures.
At no point in the past two years have Americans seen McConnell and other top Republican leaders in Washington pick real and effective fights with the Biden administration. At no point have they managed to focus the nation on controversies that would be politically advantageous to their party. In Trump’s absence, the GOP establishment has reverted to McConnell’s preferred style of opposition, one of passivity and accommodation.
Time and time again, the Senate Minority Leader has proved fundamentally unserious about opposing the overreaches of the radical left. If establishment Republicans believed that the border crisis was the existential national security disaster they claimed in their speeches, nothing about McConnell’s actions in the Senate would suggest they actually believed it. There were no threats of a government shutdown if the border was not restored. There were no real conflicts over spending bills. There was no significant effort to block key nominees or exact a price for the Biden administration’s extremism. Worst of all, there was virtually no effort whatsoever to use McConnell’s considerable power in a 50-50 Senate to set up strategic fights—to force Joe Biden to finish the wall, or to stop the Department of Homeland Security from trying to censor free speech.
Instead, in a Senate that routinely needed Republican votes to pass Democrat priorities, McConnell ensured that Democrats routinely got them with as little fanfare as possible.
Since January 2021, McConnell’s Senate minority has greenlighted some of the left’s most unpopular legislative and foreign policy initiatives—from the $550 billion “infrastructure” package to emptying out America’s arsenals and sending them to Ukraine. Even if he intended to pass the tens of billions for Ukraine, an effective Republican opposition leader would have insisted on including provisions to secure America’s own border in the process. The American people would have rallied to the Republicans’ side.
That would be the kind of leadership that could have forced the media to give some coverage—any coverage—to Congressional Republicans doing something useful.
Instead, McConnell’s theory appears to have been that he could win the Senate majority by default. When asked what Republicans would do if given the Senate majority, he famously replied that he would tell us after they had won. When NRSC Chairman Rick Scott attempted to put forward a positive vision for the party to rally around, McConnell slapped him down.
In retrospect, these appear to have been grievous mistakes. Republican leaders in Congress succeeded only in making themselves effectively invisible and allowing Democrats to drive the subject of national conversation to other issues—abortion, “democracy,” January 6th.
To make matters worse, McConnell actively attempted to sabotage pro-Trump Republicans on the general election ballot, presumably because he believed they would not back him as majority leader, and concluded that he’d rather be leader of a Republican minority than part of a Republican majority with someone else at the helm.
At a pivotal moment of the campaign, just as voters were tuning-in late in the summer and many were evaluating the Republican nominees for the first time, McConnell—who over the years has forced upon us any number of losing milquetoast clunker candidates—decided the time was right to publicly attack the Republican Party’s nominees. He baselessly called into question the competence and credibility of candidates like Masters, Vance, Walker, and Oz—thus advancing the left’s narrative that the GOP’s candidates were weird, fringe, and extreme, doing immeasurable damage to their prospects just as countless voters were forming their impressions. In fact, all of these candidates were remarkably impressive and accomplished people in their own ways. The “candidate quality” deficit is a convenient self-serving and blame-deflecting myth. But voters got the message: even Mitch McConnell didn’t think they deserved to win.
For all the venom hurled at Donald Trump by establishment Republicans since Tuesday night, perhaps the most selfish and shocking act of the cycle was when, in the closing weeks of the campaign, McConnell poured $9 million into the state of Alaska, saturating the state’s airwaves not in an effort to ensure that the Republican Party’s candidate won, but that she lost. McConnell spent those precious resources to bolster RINO Lisa Murkowski against Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski, a McConnell ally, has repeatedly insisted on running in the general election after being roundly rejected by Republican primary voters, and was personally responsible for the imposition of the ranked-choice voting system that foiled Republican voters’ desires this year in the state’s House race as well. McConnell spent big on Murkowski’s behalf, despite the fact that she recently voted to confirm Biden’s radical Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, after she had voted against Brett Kavanaugh. If any Republican candidate deserved to lose, it was her.
What might those $9 million McConnell spent against Kelly Tshibaka have done instead for Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, or Mehmet Oz—all of whom were drastically outspent by their Democratic opponents?
Nor is it at all clear that the candidates McConnell ostensibly preferred would have fared better this week. Many people have attacked Trump for endorsing Oz over establishment favorite David McCormick, ignoring that McCormick was a hedge fund CEO who would have been savaged in the general election campaign and played right into Democrat Fetterman’s fake working-class image. In spite of Oz’s imperfections, he may well have been the best of the available options—and those blaming Trump for Oz’s loss are neither honest nor sincere. Likewise, Trump’s endorsement of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano—a subject of great derision on Tuesday night—was not made until Mastriano had the nomination already all but secured. Trump didn’t really push Mastriano on Pennsylvania primary voters—if anything, the opposite occurred. The same was true in New Hampshire, where Trump did not endorse Don Bolduc until after he had already won the primary. Would McConnell’s establishment stalking horse in New Hampshire have won where Bolduc fell short? There is little reason to think so. Bolduc won the primary because he was the best of the candidates who actually ran.
Meanwhile, there is little doubt that the Senate candidates who did win on Tuesday embraced a Trumpian brand of politics and Trump’s America First platform in ways that look likely to serve the party well in the long term. Whether every bet turns out to pay off or not, Trump should be thanked for making a serious attempt to infuse the party with new life, energy, and appeal in the form of genuine talents such as Vance, Masters, and especially Lake, as well as outsider figures like Walker. Kevin McCarthy, to his credit, also made serious efforts in recruiting for the House and put forth many fine candidates. The fact that not all of these candidates won their races is not proof that the GOP would have been better off reverting to the country-club Republicanism of Mitch McConnell.
In the Senate races, the Democrat money advantage almost certainly made an enormous difference. Governors Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brian Kemp in Georgia, and Mike DeWine in Ohio had huge victories Tuesday night. Not to detract in any way from their impressive wins, but one likely reason is that being an incumbent governor of a major state where your party also controls the legislature confers certain advantages—not the least of which is money. This is especially true in states with more permissive campaign finance laws than those that apply to federal candidates. As a result of these factors, neither DeSantis nor Kemp nor DeWine was assaulted with anything like the $65 million spending differential unleashed upon Blake Masters in Arizona. DeSantis raised an estimated $200 million for his reelection, obviously far more than was needed given his margin of victory. Yet while Trump has been subject to constant criticism for amassing his own $100 million war chest (even after relentlessly raising money for candidates across the country), no one seems to blame DeSantis for not diverting his millions to help elect a Republican Senate.
Ultimately, the naysayers trashing Trump for supposedly hindering Republicans in the midterms are precisely the same voices who have desperately wanted to get rid of him for years—and they predictably seized on any unmet expectations Tuesday to go after him again.
When all is said and done, Republicans won control of the House, still have a strong chance to pull off a Senate victory, and have a handful of genuine new stars who now form the basis of a serious national political bench. This comes despite not only the money deficit, but the overwhelming environmental headwinds that Republicans unfairly face in every election. As lawyer Ron Coleman observed Tuesday night: “At no point in US history has every single cultural institution – press, entertainment, academia, unions, public employees, the massive public employee sector, the professions, law enforcement, federal agencies, major corporations, Wall Street, non-profits, mainline Protestant denominations, the military – I could go on – been so profoundly and explicitly aligned the way they have been behind the Left in the last five years.”
With so many powerful forces arrayed against conservatives, Tuesday night was far from the calamity many doomers on the right insist. But if they truly want to know why election night didn’t go as well as they had perhaps expected, rather than trying to exile the one man who has ever successfully resisted the full gale of these forces, the GOP establishment should look back at all the opportunities they have refused to take, and all the fights they have refused to have over the past two years.
The ultimate irony is that as the midterms begin to be seen with perspective, Trump may once again emerge as a hero to the Republican rank-and-file and conservative independents, while those who seized on the moment to indulge their anti-Trump obsession will be left gnashing their teeth that Trump has once again exposed their lack of professionalism as journalists and political operatives.
In the closing days of the campaign, the former president stood in the pounding rain at one of his many large and boisterous rallies, this one in Miami, energetically making the case for the party in an election when he was not even on the ballot. With time, voters will see that Trump truly has transformed the party, most importantly by teaching Republicans how to fight. That realization will only grow, notwithstanding the ridiculous campaign against him this week.
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