The biggest loser on Tuesday wasn't even on the ballot. It was a guy named Donald J. Trump. Kingmaker? Actually, more like: paper tiger. All year, Republicans have been hiding under their desks so they would be better positioned to lick his boots should he wander by. He scared the living daylights out of most of them, even those that knew he was full of it. The problem is that they believed one tweet of death from him (even on Truth Social, which nobody reads) would mean the end of their career.
Those days are gone and every Republican politician in the country knows it, although most will keep that to themselves for the moment. Trump is boasting how well his endorsees did, but his total batting average is beside the point. In many primary races, he endorsed one candidate and when that one lost, he switched to the winner. For example, he opposed Senator-elect Katie Britt (R) in Alabama—until she won the primary, then he endorsed her. In other races, he waited until close to the election and then jumped on the leader's bandwagon. Perhaps most brazenly, he endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) about 12 hours before the election began. Way to go out on a limb there! He also endorsed a bunch of people who couldn't possibly have lost, with or without his support. Collecting easy wins like this gets his batting average way up there, but every politician from both parties knows he didn't lead the battle. He just jumped in after it was basically over.
The real test here is how the candidates he endorsed early on did, particularly the ones who staked everything on their belief that Trump won in 2020. And the highest-profile ones mostly fumbled. Among senatorial candidates he really did support from the beginning, Mehmet Oz (PA) and Don Bolduc (NH) lost. Kelly Tshibaka (AK) is going to lose (see below). Blake Masters (AZ) will probably lose, despite Trump campaigning for him and Peter Thiel giving him millions of dollars. Herschel Walker (GA) didn't even come in first and is going to be forced into a runoff on Dec. 6. J.D. Vance did win in Ohio, but with 53% of the vote he ran a full 10 points behind Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who was reelected with 63% of the vote without Trump's help. It is almost as though Trump's support cost Vance 10 points. Vance won not due to Trump, but simply because Ohio has become a red state and Republicans generally do well statewide now there.
But maybe Trump's gubernatorial picks did better? Nah. Doug Mastriano (PA), Tudor Dixon (MI), Lee Zeldin (NY), and Dan Cox (MD) all lost decisively. Kari Lake (R) is in a tight battle with Katie Hobbs (D) in Arizona. Maybe she'll pull it off in the end, but she certainly didn't run away with it. But what about the House? Surely Trump's horses won there? Well, super-Trumpers Karoline Leavitt (NH), J.R. Majewski (OH), and Yesli Vega (VA) all lost, Joe Kent (WA) is behind, and Lauren Boebert (CO) is in a barnburner (down by 64 votes with 99% reporting).
Trump is busy spinning his losses, blaming the candidates he handpicked. Maybe if he had picked candidates based on their ability to win elections instead to their ability to state on camera "Trump won in 2020" with a straight face, he would have done better.
Also of note, two of Trump's bitter enemies did very well. Brian Kemp, whom Trump campaigned against before endorsing him, won reelection easily. And the big bummer was the landslide win of Gov. Ron DeSanctimonius (R-FL) who crushed ex-governor Charlie Crist by 20 points. Victories like that don't happen in the (former) mother of all swing states.
These results up and down the line are going to make Republicans rethink a lot going forward. But how? What they would like are better candidates, but that will require getting rid of Trump. But how to do that? Actually, Ron DeS. has a plan: run for president. These results are going to give DeSantis a huge push to challenge Trump in 2024. He just came off a huge victory and Trump's picks were badly beaten almost everywhere. Sure, DeSantis could wait until 2028, but he will be out of office then and everyone will have forgotten his landslide win in 2022. He is strong now and Trump is weak. He knows that very well. This is his moment.
If DeSantis, who is almost as ambitious as he is ruthless, takes the plunge, the GOP primary will be a food fight for the ages. Trump will claim that he "made" DeSantis by endorsing him in 2018. Nobody is going to care about that. DeSantis will claim that he is a younger version of Trump, just as good at owning the libs, and without a stream of women claiming he sexually assaulted them. If he wants to make up a nickname, how about "Failed President Trump." He could talk about all the campaign promises Trump didn't deliver on, starting with building the wall and getting Mexico to pay for it. He could easily contrast Trump's record of failure with his own record of "success" (e.g., shipping 50 immigrants to Massachusetts— where they were accepted with open arms). His pitch could be: "Trump is an old windbag full of hot air. I get things done." If Trump is under indictment, DeSantis will also say: "It is hard to govern when you are in prison."
Is there anyone else besides DeSantis who wants to see a DeSantis run? Billionnaire Ken Griffin has already said in public that he will take care of the financing, so that won't be a problem. Griffin has a net worth of $31 billion. If he were to put 1% of it ($310 million) in a super PAC for DeSantis, that would be enough to finance DeSantis' entire primary campaign right there, so DeSantis wouldn't have to waste any time dialing for dollars. At DeSantis' victory party Tuesday evening, the crowd chanted: "Two more years!" Maybe the room was full of transplants from New Hampshire or Vermont, where gubernatorial terms are 2 years, but we think the crowd had something else in mind.
Still, DeSantis hasn't had to deal with a full frontal assault yet, isn't heavy on charisma, has a squeaky voice, and is media-challenged, so he isn't in like Flynn. Also, Nov. 2024 is two years away. Remember former presidents Scott Walker and Rudy Giuliani? Yeah, we neither. Sometimes the flavor of the day turns sour. Also, if DeSantis jumps is, that could attract the Mikes P. (Pence and Pompeo), leading the anti-Trump candidates to split the anti-Trump vote and allow him to win all the delegates in the many winner-take-all primaries.
If DeSantis runs, how does it affect Joe Biden's decision? Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has already started campaigning against DeSantis. Maybe he knows something the rest of us haven't figured out yet. Nobody wants Biden vs. Trump again, while Newsom vs. DeSantis would be a whole new generation of politicians and an ideological battle for the ages: a true lefty vs. a true righty. But keep in mind, if a week is a long time in politics, 2 years is large multiple of the lifetime of the universe. (V)