The GOP absolutely blew a historic opportunity in the 2022 midterms and, sadly, it seems nothing in the party will change. For all the talk of accountability and blame last week, many in the GOP now seem content to just… move on.
All eyes have turned to the 2024 presidential nomination with former president Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday night that he would be running for a third time. Trump’s rally handed the establishment a welcome distraction from their own failures in the midterms; now, the debate is over how badly Trump hurt the party with his endorsements and whether or not he and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will officially go to war.
The party — and more importantly the voters! — should decide if they still want Trump to be their leader. There are good arguments for and against nominating him in 2024. But all of those squabbles should come after a discussion about the current leadership of the party machine.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are facing leadership battles, but neither challenge should be taken too seriously. McCarthy easily earned the party’s nomination for Speaker of the House against his opponent, former Freedom Caucus chair Andy Biggs. Biggs’s supporters note that McCarthy does not currently have the 218 votes required to win the floor vote in January. However, the nominating vote is done by secret ballot. All 31 of the naysayers have to put their names to the final vote and risk losing committee assignments if McCarthy ultimately prevails. Even tough-talking Marjorie Taylor Greene seemed to shudder at the notion of spending another congressional term without a committee, stating that she would not support Biggs’s challenge. Not to mention that McCarthy has the support of Trump.
Meanwhile, Senator Rick Scott attempted to usurp McConnell, while a number of other senators begged to hit pause on the leadership vote entirely until the Georgia Senate runoff was decided. Senators Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and others all suggested postponing the vote, with Rubio most ardently indicating that the current leadership is not devoted enough to the “America First” agenda. However, every GOP activist that I’ve spoken to says that Scott might have been the worst person to enlist in a challenge against McConnell. If the reception to Scott’s speech at this year’s National Conservatism Conference was any indicator, populists don’t trust him. And virtually no one thought it was a good idea for him to invoke Medicare and Social Security ahead of a midterm cycle focused on the poor economy.
Scott’s leadership of the National Republican Senatorial Committee has brought with it real problems. Last summer he invested millions in a useless text-based donation program and failed to reserve any midterm money beyond August, dumping the burden of late-cycle spending onto McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Thom Tillis are calling for an audit of the NRSC. Scott also had his own financial reasons for taking over as minority leader: it would allow him to pull donations away from SLF and drive more business to his chosen data and consulting firms. McConnell is not personally “loyal” to Trump and made some horrible spending decisions in the midterms, but he was at least a talented enough tactician to enlist Trump in reshaping the entire federal judiciary. If the right wing of the party is going to launch a viable coup against McConnell, they’ll have to do better than Scott.
While McCarthy and McConnell caught most of the GOP’s ire post-midterms, a growing chorus is adding another name to the mix: Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel (née Romney).
McDaniel has served as RNC chair through three election cycles now, and has little to show for it. In the 2018 midterms, the Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House, their largest gain since 1974, and held the Senate. In 2020, McDaniel failed to get her party’s incumbent president re-elected to a second term. In 2022, the GOP didn’t capitalize on the massive disapproval of the Biden administration and general dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, barely eking out a House majority and leaving the Senate in Democratic control. Yes, elections are complicated and it’s never just one person’s fault when things don’t go according to plan, but does three consecutive losses really sound like the record of someone who deserves re-election?
According to reports, conservative activists are practically begging New York Representative Lee Zeldin to run for RNC chair. Zeldin lost the New York gubernatorial election to incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul by less than six points, marking one of the closest statewide races in New York in decades. His focused and relentless campaigning also propelled Republicans to flip four House seats in the state, including one held by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Representative Sean Maloney. Zeldin’s media consultant says he’s considering the idea, but party insiders tell me McCarthy would beat Zeldin silly if he went after the job. McDaniel seems undeterred. She announced Monday that she will seek re-election to a fourth term as RNC chair after a few days of social media astroturfing by various GOP candidates.
Naturally, she’ll likely have the endorsement of Donald Trump, who first elevated her to the position after his 2016 election.
“Conservatives are united behind Ronna McDaniel. She’s done a tremendous job,” Trump said in a video message played at a GOP members meeting back in April. “It’s an honor to be associated with her.”
It’s very unlikely that anyone sane would challenge McDaniel while she has Trump’s backing, even though she has been an ineffective leader. She was partially tapped for the role in 2016 because of her fundraising ability, but each year party officials are less and less impressed with her numbers. She has been very dependent on a joint fundraising committee that the party set up with Trump, and a chunk of that money has gone to paying the former president’s legal bills.
The RNC apparently didn’t have much money to play with toward the end of this election cycle, leading to some poor strategic decisions. Activists felt the party sent less support staff to states with key toss-up races than to Midwestern red states where Republicans were all but guaranteed to win. This left the impression that the RNC was more interested in laying the groundwork for the 2024 presidential election than in winning the midterms. The RNC participated in very few mail campaigns and pushed a harebrained scheme in the last few weeks of the cycle to capture what they call “delinquent voters.”
A “delinquent voter” refers to someone who voted during a certain time frame in the 2020 election but had failed to vote by that time in 2022. For example, if someone who voted a month before election day in 2020 had not yet voted a week before the 2022 election, they would be considered “delinquent.” Sources tell me the RNC was insistent on targeting these voters to make sure they ended up casting a ballot.
There were several problems with this method, not least of which is that voters’ habits obviously have changed since the height of the pandemic. A huge chunk of people who voted early or by mail in 2020 because they were concerned about their health would have no qualms voting in-person in 2022. How much money was spent nudging people who were almost certainly going to vote anyway? Campaign officials told me they believed the RNC went this route because it was short on cash and needed to do something cheaper and easier than trying to convert undecideds and independents.
Conservative activists have lobbed all sorts of complaints about Trump since the disappointing midterm elections: his endorsements in toss-up races were not very helpful, he unnecessarily poked one of the party’s most popular leaders the day before the election, and his personal and legal controversies may have dragged the party down with independent voters. There are also equally valid reasons to back Trump: he was the father of the GOP’s working class realignment, he exposed untold corruption in America’s institutions, and he has a seemingly unmatched ability to excite the GOP base.
But these questions should be secondary right now to fixing the ineptitude that led to last Tuesday’s disappointing results. Regardless of who the nominee is in 2024, victory is improbable without a seriously reformed Republican Party.