The 2022 midterms someday could be remembered as the “revenge of the normal” election. Normal Americans asserted their independence and rebuked charlatans and extremists of varying types on both sides. Voters didn’t define “normal” as ideologically moderate or milquetoast. Instead, they rewarded candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who delivered results and fought aggressively for his agenda within the Founders’ framework of principled pluralism.
Yet, despite the obvious rebuke to his style of politics, Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential candidacy in a low-energy speech loaded with language appealing to his loyal base. He decried the “blood soaked streets of our once great cities” and complained about “radical left lunatics running our government right into the ground.” He checked off other boxes from the Trump bingo card: “our rigged and corrupt system,” “censorship,” “Barack Hussein Obama.” Just a few short days after a midterm shellacking, Trump quadrupled down on a strategy that failed in the last three national elections.
The midterms showed the determination and willingness of Republican voters to reject “Trumpy” candidates while embracing normal, conservative Republicans. Trumpworld shouldn’t find comfort in the tactical divisions among “Never Trumpers.” The reality is that millions of voters are united in their disdain for Trump and are unwilling to hold their noses and vote for him.
In New Hampshire, Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona “Team Normal” outperformed “Team Trump.” In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu was reelected with 57.2 percent of the vote while Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Don Bolduc received 44.4 percent and lost. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine won with 62.8 percent while Senate candidate J.D. Vance won with 53.3 percent. In Georgia, Brian Kemp earned 53.4 percent while Senate candidate Herschel Walker received 48.5 percent. Arizona is a fascinating study, where fiscally conservative star and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee won with 55.5 percent of the vote. Yee was the state’s top Republican vote-getter. She outperformed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake by about 6 points and Senate candidate Blake Masters by more than 9 points.
In places where there wasn’t a high profile “Team Normal” contrast, the typical partisan lean is a good stand-in benchmark. The most notable example is Colorado’s 3rd District, where uber-Trumpy Rep. Lauren Boebert barely eked out a win while underperforming her district’s partisan lean by almost 7 points.
Districts that were the focus of Trump’s rage primaries against Republicans who voted for impeachment also reveal the former president’s toxicity. In Washington’s 3rd District primary, Trump insisted that voters oust incumbent GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for impeachment, in favor of America Firster Joe Kent. Kent won the primary but lost the general to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez by 1 point. Kent underperformed the partisan index by almost 6 points and Herrera Beutler’s 2020 performance by more than 7 points.
In Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, election denier John Gibbs ousted impeachment “yea” Peter Meijer in the primary only to be blown out by Democrat Hillary Scholten months later. Gibbs underperformed both the partisan index and Meijer’s 2020 performance by 15 points.
Nate Cohn at the New York Times shows how Trump imposed a five-point penalty on MAGA candidates. Not only that, Trump’s rage primaries were a betrayal of his own supporters, who wanted him to make it harder—not easier—for Democrats to enact their “radical socialist agenda” and Green New Deal.
The key question for Trump loyalists is, “Are you tired of losing yet?”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said it well during an appearance on State of the Union with CNN’s Dana Bash.
“It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like, three strikes, you’re out,” Hogan said. “I think common-sense conservatives that focused on talking about issues people cared about, like the economy and crime and education, they did win.” Those focused on 2020 and conspiracy theories, he continued, “they were all almost universally rejected.”
To build on Hogan’s baseball metaphor: The GOP is in the midst of its steroid era. One day, hopefully soon, demonstrations of so-called strength will be remembered as weakness. But pick any sport at any level: What fan, parent, or coach celebrates whiners and sore losers? When you lose, the right answer is always, “I need to do better.”
Trumpworld isn’t quite ready for personal responsibility. Someone else is to blame. Trump doesn’t need to do better and make adjustments after a red wave didn’t materialize. It’s the fault of Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and the corporatists and globalists, you see.
In a presidential election that will likely be decided by razor thin margins in a divided country, Republicans can’t afford to nominate someone who won’t earn the vote of the millions of people who would normally vote Republican.
In states like Arizona and Georgia, which Trump lost narrowly in 2020, even minimal defections would be fatal for his next campaign. And the midterms suggest the defection rate could be far higher than two years ago. Remember the gap in Arizona: Team Normal State Treasurer Kimberly Yee outperformed Team Trump candidates Kari Lake and Blake Masters by 6 and 9 points, respectively. If that trend holds in 2024, Trump himself (not merely a Trump-like candidate) has very slim odds in a general election.
Many observers saw this coming. The organization I run commissioned a poll in July that found as many as 10 percent of Republican voters would not vote for Trump under any circumstances, even if it meant helping Joe Biden win another term. The New York Times, meanwhile, also found in July that 16 percent of Republicans are in the “anyone but Trump” camp.
And new numbers aren’t great for Trump. The Club for Growth commissioned a new poll showing DeSantis handily beating Trump in a head-to-head match-up in early primary states. Trump seems to be betting that he can prevail in a divided field, and that if he doesn’t become the nominee, he’ll force challengers to back down by threatening to burn the party to the ground by starting a new party. Republicans should call his bluff and aggressively define Trump as the spoiler who could, yet again, throw an election to Democrats. Betting on Trump to get lucky again is a risk Republicans would be foolish to take.
Trump’s inner circle still has time to talk him out of his plans for 2024. Trump advisers like Jason Miller, who worked with me on Tom Coburn’s 2004 Senate campaign, are not fools and can do math. Miller will remember Coburn’s successful coup against Newt Gingrich in 1998, when less than 3 percent of the Republican caucus forced Newt into early retirement. The process is different in a general election, but the power dynamic is similar: If a determined minority of Republican voters decide they are done with Trump, he will never be president again. And it ought to be obvious that voters have already made that decision.
True believer conservative voters are done with Trump because he committed an unforgivable yet unoriginal sin: By not conceding an election he knows he lost, he rejected the Founders’ belief in the consent of the governed enshrined in the Declaration of Independence—a government of We the People rather than Me the Person. The problem in the Republican Party today is not 1980s nostalgia, but 1380s nostalgia when the king got to define reality, and the scope, of our rights.
The persistent blind faith in Trump 2024 in some quarters brings to mind the immortal film Spinal Tap and the insights of band manager, Ian Faith.
Interview: The last time Tap toured America, they were booked into 10,000 seat arenas, and 15,000 seat venues, and it seems that now, on their current tour they’re being booked into 1,200 seat arenas, 1,500 seat arenas, and I was just wondering, does this mean the popularity of the group is waning?
Ian: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no…no, no, not at all. I just think that their appeal is becoming more selective.
Trump’s appeal the past three elections certainly is becoming “more selective.” Unless Republicans want to spend the next decade playing jazz festivals and puppet shows, they might want to look at the midterm results and tap into America.