Yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee voted, 24-16, to release Trump’s tax returns from 2015 through 2020. Every Republican voted against it. During most of those years, Trump, a notorious tax cheat, paid no income tax at all, something he’s worked hard to hide from his dumbbell MAGA followers. Charlie Savage reported that “While the public release of the documents will provide the most up-to-date information about Trump’s finances, much is already known. The New York Times in 2020 released findings of an investigation into Trump’s tax-return data covering more than two decades. He paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined; he also reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that, as of 2020, was the subject of an IRS audit.”
The Wall Street Journal released a poll last week by Impact Research and Fabrizio-Lee (Trump’s pollsters) and it still shows 36% of voters with a favorable opinion if him. And even though 59% have an unfavorable opinion, what Rick are those 36% living under? And if GOP primary match-ups Trump led Pence 63-28% but lost to DeSantis 52-38%. Hard to imagine so many people still support Trump, even if the number is shrinking.
And you’ve probably noticed that the Republicans who are abandoning Trump are mostly abandoning him not because of his policies or the revelations about his character and criminality but because they think he’s a loser and will continue leading the GOP down a rathole. Yesterday, writing for the New Republic, Dan McLaughlin began a series on how Trump cost the GOP the midterms. He kicked it off with the Senate, noting that “Trump played a crucial, often decisive role in picking so many of the bad candidates who lost winnable races. First up were “the big three Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. All three were eminently winnable with good candidates, and any two would have given the party control of the Senate.”
The problem was all about Trump’s selection of candidates. “Trump deterred some potential candidates, even incumbents, from running. He endorsed unsuccessful primary challengers to candidates who won in November. He helped some candidates win their primaries with decisively timed interventions. He endorsed others only when they had locked up their nominations, or only in the general election. Once the campaigns began, some Trump-endorsed candidates ran standard Republican campaigns; others, even those not formally endorsed by Trump, went all-in on 2020 stolen-election theories. The latter fared much worse.”
Candidate selection is, of course, not the only way in which Trump negatively affected the midterms. As I have detailed from exit poll data, Trump was massively unpopular with the people who voted in the midterms. The people who said that they were casting a vote to oppose Trump greatly outnumbered those who said that they came out to support Trump. Indeed, the margin between the anti-Trump and pro-Trump voters was, by itself, enough to play a decisive difference in nearly every Republican defeat for which we have exit polls.
…Whatever issues Republicans had with turning out their voters early or by mail-in balloting, the electorate wasn’t the main problem. According to the exit polls, the national electorate was R+3— in other words, three points more Republican than Democrat, 36 percent to 33 percent… On a state-by-state level, exit polls show an electorate that was astoundingly Republican: R+14 in Florida, R+11 in Ohio and Texas, R+6 in Georgia and Arizona, R+5 in North Carolina, R+3 in Pennsylvania, R+2 in Nevada and Wisconsin, and R+1 in New Hampshire.
…One must look race-by-race to see the true scale of Trump’s impact on Republican fortunes in 2022. It was not all negative in every case— but on balance, it was so overwhelmingly negative that only a determined effort at denial can avoid acknowledging the damage done. I will award a letter grade to each race to summarize Trump’s impact.
Pennsylvania: By any standard, the Pennsylvania Senate race was the year’s most important election. It turned out to be the only Senate seat to change parties, in a state that Trump carried by 0.7 points in 2016 and that Biden won by 1.2 points in 2020. It began 2022 with one senator from each party, a Democratic governor, and a Republican state legislature.
The top Republican priority should have been persuading incumbent Pat Toomey to run again. Every single Senate incumbent ended up getting reelected in 2022, as well as all but one incumbent governor (a Democrat). In retrospect, Toomey would almost certainly have been reelected in this environment. Trump, whose relations with Toomey were always frosty, did nothing to help persuade Toomey to stay on, and much to drive him away.
Toomey publicly announced his retirement a few weeks before the 2020 election, before he voted to impeach Trump over January 6 (after voting against the first impeachment). He offered principled reasons to not stay too long in public office. Like other Republicans who passed on winnable races, Toomey won’t exactly say that he retired rather than continue dealing with Trump and his influence on the party. So, it is possible that Toomey would have retired anyway. But given his small-government Tea Party principles and how obviously uncomfortable Toomey was with having Trump as the party leader, it seems clear that Trump’s continuing influence contributed to Toomey deciding to pack it in rather than fight for his seat.
Trump wasn’t worried: He had his man, Sean Parnell. Trump’s first endorsement to replace Toomey, in September 2021, was a failed 2020 congressional candidate who had never won an election, and whom Trump touted as “a great candidate, who got robbed in his congressional run in the Crime of the Century— the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” Whatever might be said for Parnell’s political talents, he withdrew from the race after an ugly divorce in which his wife accused him of domestic abuse. Lest we pass too quickly over this disastrous judgment by Trump, imagine the national narrative if the domestic violence charges against Parnell had come out after he won the nomination, and while Herschel Walker was already dealing with similar baggage.
Enter Dr. Mehmet Oz, who won Trump’s endorsement on April 9, 2022, a little over five weeks before the May 17 primary. Despite nearly universal name recognition, Oz was then at 16.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics poll average, six points behind front-runner David McCormick in what was effectively a five-candidate field, none of whom had ever won elected office. Trump’s intervention was likely the decisive factor: Oz pulled ahead in the polls ten days later and never trailed. But he was hardly an overwhelming choice of the primary electorate, beating McCormick by 950 votes out of 1.35 million cast and capturing 31.2 percent of the vote. The other 68.8 percent of Republican primary voters were stuck with him.
Oz was a strange choice. He was not the natural MAGA candidate in the race: Kathy Barnette ran a much more populist campaign, embraced the Stop the Steal movement identified with so many other controversial Trump candidates who rejected the 2020 election outcome, and basically ran as a ticket with Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. Barnette inspired some real populist energy in the western half of Pennsylvania, but she also had her own severe flaws. Trump seems to have warmed to Oz mainly because he was a celebrity and because he gave Trump a flattering bill of health when they met in 2016. He had previously served under Trump on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, although being a former Trump official is often a path to becoming one of Trump’s enemies.
Oz was not without his strengths. In addition to being massively famous and a smoothly experienced television performer, he is highly intelligent and intensely hard-working. He campaigned tirelessly, and by all accounts took seriously the role of a future Senator. He was, nonetheless, a poor candidate for reasons that were obvious from the outset. He lacked warmth— no bedside manner for the TV doc— and his lack of a prior record of political engagement made him seem a rich dilettante. His long residence in New Jersey allowed John Fetterman’s campaign to paint the Muslim with Turkish citizenship as “not a real Pennsylvanian.” Despite his distinguished medical record, he also carried an odor of quackery from some of the things he’d promoted during his TV career.
With 46.3 percent of the vote — two and a half points behind Trump’s own 2020 showing — Oz ended up running just under four points ahead of Mastriano, whose campaign was an even bigger fiasco also traceable to Trump’s malign influence. Mastriano and Oz took the Republican majority in the state house down with them. But at the congressional level, Republican House candidates won 52.5 percent of the vote statewide, and Republicans held their majority in the state senate, in which they also won a majority of the votes cast statewide. Even if you exclude the two House districts in which Republicans ran unopposed, Oz ran five to six points behind the party’s House candidates.
…Given the absence of any Republican alternative besides Toomey who had ever won an election, I will be charitable and give Trump a D, but the sheer number of ways in which he drove the final outcome argues against any better grade.
Georgia: The single biggest target among Democrat incumbents in the Senate was Raphael Warnock. Georgia still has strong Republican roots (until 2020, no Republican had lost a statewide race in Georgia in 20 years), and Warnock was seen by many Republicans as essentially an accidental senator elected in the midst of Trump’s post-2020 tantrum. After all, the Republican candidates got more votes than the Democratic candidates in Warnock’s race on Election Day in 2020, just as David Perdue got more votes on Election Day, 2020 than did Jon Ossoff— until the runoff was blighted by Trump’s sore-loser campaign.
Even more so than in Pennsylvania, the recruiting of a challenger to Warnock cannot be separated from either the endgame of the 2020 election or from the 2022 election for governor. Because Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stood in Trump’s way in the 2020 election controversy, Trump publicly swore revenge and set about recruiting his own slate of candidates for nearly every major office in Georgia.
Two of those recruits— former senator David Perdue, running against Kemp, and Congressman Jody Hice, running against Raffensperger— might have been formidable challengers to Warnock, had they kept their distance from Trump’s stolen-election obsessions. So might any number of experienced political figures in Georgia. Instead, Trump talked Herschel Walker into running. Arguably the greatest living Georgia sports legend, Walker played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the mid 1980s; he was thus a friend of Trump long before either man got into politics. Few Georgia Republicans wanted to go head-to-head with Walker in a primary. For a variety of reasons, not least of which was the need to pick their battles with Trump in the Georgia primaries, most leading Republicans in Georgia and nationally took a pass on opposing Walker, who faced only poorly funded opponents. Thus, while there is blame to go around among national and statewide Republicans in declining to present a serious alternative to Walker, Trump was pivotal to getting him into the race and deterring opposition.
The strategy of picking their battles with Trump worked for the rest of the ticket: Aside from the lieutenant governor’s race, all of Trump’s other endorsees lost in the primary, several of them (including Perdue) by substantial margins. All of those Republicans went on to win on Election Day by five or more points. Up and down the ticket, even in federal races for the House, Republicans had a good election in Georgia — except for Walker. An analysis by Nate Cohn of the New York Times emphasized that there was plenty of Republican voter turnout in Georgia, and that Republicans were likelier to turn out than Democrats — a pattern we have seen across a number of states. Even Walker supporters in polls were likelier to turn out than Warnock supporters. The New York Times/Siena poll found that Georgia voters wanted Republicans to control the Senate; they just didn’t vote that way, because they didn’t like the candidate.
A full catalogue of Walker’s well-known failures as a candidate is unnecessary here. His weakness as a public speaker, his documented mental-health issues, and his moral failures were all either apparent or easily discovered at the time Trump persuaded him to run for the Senate.
As in Pennsylvania, it is not entirely clear who would have run and beaten Warnock without Trump’s meddling, but the strength of the Georgia Republicans and the catastrophic recruiting of Walker justifies giving Trump an F.
Arizona: In Arizona, there was a mounting fissure in the state Republican Party going into 2022, which Trump has done everything in his power to exacerbate. The old party establishment, an uneasy alliance of moderates with Reagan/Goldwater libertarian-leaning conservatives, was arguably more successful before Trump than the Georgia Republicans:
Arizona remains a red state in every meaningful sense. Republicans have controlled both houses of the state legislature for two decades, and appear to have retained control this year. Before 2022, Democrats hadn’t elected a state attorney general since 2006 or a state treasurer since the 1960s; the state treasurer’s race this year was a Republican blowout, the attorney general’s race still too close to call, but likely a very narrow Democratic pickup. Before 2018, Democrats hadn’t won a Senate race in the state since 1988. Before 2020, Bob Dole in 1996 was the only Republican to lose Arizona at the presidential level since 1948— and 1948 was also the last time a Democrat won a majority of the popular presidential vote there. From 1968 through 1992, Democratic presidential candidates never cracked 40 percent in Arizona; from 2000 through 2016, they never cracked 45 percent. In the House, Republicans have held onto six of the state’s nine seats, winning the popular vote across those House races by a margin of 56.9 percent to 43.1 percent. Two Republican incumbents ran unopposed, but even if you arbitrarily assume that Democrats would have taken a third of the vote in each of those deep-red districts, Republicans would still have won the statewide vote for the House by 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. Exit polls showed an electorate that was 33 percent Republican, 27 percent Democrat, 36 percent self-identified conservatives, and 22 percent self-identified liberals.
…Trump declared war on Ducey, for certifying the 2020 election, and on state attorney general Mark Brnovich, for concluding that Joe Biden did not steal Arizona. Ward led the state party in censuring Ducey, Flake, and McCain’s widow, stopping short only from censuring McCain himself posthumously. She may as well have censured Arizona’s Republican voters.
The bland Kelly was in some ways a fatter target than Warnock in 2022, tying himself closely to Biden and his agenda (both of which are unpopular in Arizona) while Sinema acted as one of the few effective checks on Biden’s money-printing machine. The top recruit sought by Mitch McConnell and other Republicans was Ducey, who was term-limited from seeking a third term as governor. Arguably the most effective enactor of conservative policy in the country, Ducey was elected state treasurer with 52 percent of the vote in 2010, won the governorship with 53 percent in 2014 (after winning a six-way primary by 15 points), crushed a primary challenge in 2018 by 40 points and went on to be reelected with 56 percent of the vote.
Like Toomey, Ducey won’t say he passed on a Senate bid because of Trump, and as a career executive in business and politics, he likely had little enthusiasm for moving to Washington to become one of 100. Still, without Trump’s enmity, Ducey could likely have sailed to the nomination and would probably have beaten Kelly. It is hard not to conclude that Ducey’s falling-out with Trump, which was caused entirely by Trump’s rage over the 2020 election, contributed mightily to Ducey passing on the race.
…[Masters] turned out to be a disastrously bad endorsement. Masters, who unlike Ducey or Brnovich had never run for office or won an election before, was a strange, creepy guy with no personal charisma. Assessments of how he went over with the public found “some of the worst focus-group results of any Republican candidate ever, according to the head of a Mitch McConnell–aligned super PAC; lower favorability ratings than Roy Moore, according to an internal poll of the Arizona Senate race.”
Masters took fire for being too Trumpy, and also for some amateur efforts to have it both ways. After he scrubbed from his website his primary-season claims about the 2020 election and said in a debate that Biden was the “legitimate president,” he got a call from Trump, who demanded that he not “go soft” and follow Lake’s model: “Look at Kari. Kari’s winning with very little money. And if they say, ‘How is your family?’ she says the election was rigged and stolen. You’ll lose if you go soft. You’re going to lose that base.” (Lake lost). Masters promised Trump, “I’m not going soft.” Tucker Carlson, for some reason, thought Masters’s sycophantic responses to Trump were helpful to him, and played the call on national TV. Masters kicked up a similar storm when he seemed to back away from pro-life commitments made during the primary.
He also brought a lot of strange baggage of his own. He touted the Unabomber when asked in a debate to name a thinker people should know more about. His past included all sorts of weird paleolibertarian stuff… He was pulverized by Democrats for touting entitlement reform and saying, in a debate, “Maybe we should privatize Social Security.” Naturally, Kelly misrepresented this as a plot to defund the system, but it allowed Masters to be saddled with all of the baggage of the Romney–Ryan era Republican Party in addition to all the baggage of Trump and a trove of stuff that sounded like it came from a Ron Paul newsletter. Meanwhile, there ended up being a festival of finger-pointing between Masters, tech magnate Peter Thiel, McConnell, and Trump over whose responsibility it was to adequately fund the general election campaign. Masters, who relied heavily upon the patronage of Thiel in the primary, enjoyed no such financial edge against Kelly, who outspent him significantly.
The results weren’t pretty… Per the exit polls, the 36-year-old Masters lost voters in their 30s by 21 points, and voters in their forties by eleven. He lost white voters (by one point), which no Republican can survive in any jurisdiction in America, on account of losing white women by ten and white college graduates by 18. He lost independents by 16 and moderates by 30. He won 89 percent of Republicans, while Kelly was winning 97 percent of Democrats and six percent of 2020 Trump voters. He lost suburbanites, who make up 48 percent of the Arizona electorate, by one. He ran up only a twelve-point margin among white voters without college degrees. Kelly rolled up a 59-point margin among the 63 percent of the electorate who thought Biden won the 2020 election. Fifty-seven percent of Arizona voters had an unfavorable view of Trump, and Masters lost them by 72 points; 57 percent disapproved of Biden, but Masters had a less commanding 66 point margin among them. Kelly won 28 percent of voters who listed inflation as their top issue.
The 800-pound gorilla of Arizona elections is Maricopa County, which houses both Phoenix and Mesa and accounts for about 60 percent of the state’s voters. The other big county is Pima, which includes Tuscon and the southern border. Traditionally, Maricopa leans modestly Republican, while Pima is heavily Democrat, and the rest of the state is deep red. Arizona’s blue shift in recent years has not, unlike in some states, been driven by a disproportionate population shift towards the big, urban-centered counties. It has been largely the result of demographic and political change within Maricopa.
…Masters was a terrible candidate for Maricopa. He lost the county by six points just four years after Ducey carried it by nearly 14, and while the county was swinging from 50-48 percent Democrat to 57-40 percent Republican in House races. He did worse there than Trump, Lake, or McSally.
…Maybe Arizona Republicans would not have recruited Ducey for the Senate without Trump, and maybe Brnovich would have lost to Jim Lamon in the primary. But clearly, Trump’s intervention had a disfiguring impact on this election from start to finish, leading to the worst statewide defeat for Arizona Republicans since at least the 2006 race for governor, accomplished by a candidate who excited nobody and turned off every category of persuadable voter. F.
If Donald Trump had simply disappeared after losing the 2020 election, it is highly likely that Republicans would have won at least two of these three races, and probably all three. They would today control the Senate.
If the Democrats weren't so awful, they wouldn't need a foil like Trump to keep them from self-inflicted destruction. But they are awful and they do need Trump as a foil. Now they're working to drive him out of politics. If they succeed, we're looking at President Ron DeSantis in 2024 and he's likely to be even worse than Trump. This morning, in a Vanity Fair piece about how evangelicals want to divorce Trump, Caleb Ecarma pointed out that "Despite not having officially entered the 2024 race, he has emerged as the GOP front-runner, in part, by courting the religious right with combative rhetoric, hawkish moral policies, and a knack for making cultural enemies. This summer, the Florida governor was invited to attend the Faith & Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority conference, where thousands of evangelical voters gathered to listen to several 2024 contenders, and was recently endorsed by Tom Ascol, a prominent evangelical pastor. Perhaps his biggest play with evangelicals came just before the November midterms, when the Florida governor released an ad portraying himself as an Old Testament warrior. 'On the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a protector,"' the narrator of the spot, who mentioned 'God' 10 times in 96 seconds, told viewers. 'So God made a fighter.'"