Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott went to Savannah three weeks ago to the aid of candidate Herschel Walker. He was a struggling contender, and Georgia already looked like a swing state. In the absence of knowing the fate of the seats in Nevada and Arizona, it is likely that control of the Senate will be decided there on December 6, in his second round against Raphael Warnock. Scott, one of the members of the most powerful party in Washington, reviewed before a handful of acolytes the reasons for voting for his own: inflation, the “open borders”, through which “the fentanyl that kills our children” enters, women’s sport ruined by “transgender ideology”, the “scary” withdrawal from Afghanistan, indoctrination in schools, “socialism”, “free abortion” until the moment of birth… “If you like that list” , he said, “vote Warnock. Because he and Joe Biden brought all of that.” Loaded with reasons (and lies, and half-truths), he exuded confidence. What could go wrong?
On Tuesday, a few things went wrong for the Republican Party in the midterm legislative elections. With the Senate, which could fall on either side, in a handkerchief, it is very likely that they will retake the House of Representatives, but it will be by a much smaller margin than the red tide that they announced (these days, the American media fights with the dictionary to find a word that better defines what happened: wave? splash?). And that they had the right opponent in front of them, hit by the perfect storm described by Scott, a weak president and the general discontent of the population with the way things were going. Despite such strong winds, a strong tradition was broken: since Lyndon B. Johnson, the ruling party has lost an average of 45 seats in the House and five in the Senate in midterm elections. So the conservative formation woke up on Wednesday with a good electoral hangover, the kind in which one gets up feeling your clothes to find your wallet. Wondering what the hell happened last night. Looking for culprits.
In that search, one stands out above the rest at the moment: Donald Trump. His shadow hovered over the entire campaign, as it has over the present and future of the party for six years. The most conspicuous failures have been by some of the hopefuls he supported (others, like JD Vance in Ohio, played his part). The anticipation that next week he will announce his candidacy for the White House in 2024 has pushed prominent Republicans to say publicly that they do not think it is a good idea for him to do so before things are resolved in a month in Georgia. The opposite could spur the Democratic mobilization.
For now, Trump has summoned the world to his Mar-a-Lago residence on Tuesday for “the most important announcement in the history of the United States.” If he intends to back down (he doesn’t seem to), it will be interesting to see how he does it, although no one doubts that, with his proven mastery of the art of sleight of hand, he will find a way. At least, he acknowledged Wednesday on his social network, Truth, that “in a way yesterday’s elections were somewhat disappointing.” Although he added: “from my personal point of view it was a great victory: 219 WINS and 16 losses overall. Who has done better than that? The tycoon is entrenched, dodging friendly fire bullets, in Florida, where he swept the election of his most serious rival in 2024, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, as governor.
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The projectiles also come from the related media, owned by Rupert Murdoch, such as Fox News, whose broadcast has become a pilgrimage of ex-advisors to the tycoon with a “knew it” face, and the tabloid New York Post, that have chained an unusual succession of two unflattering covers. In the first, the headline “DeFuture” is seen over a photo of DeSantis. In the second, Trump appears caricatured as the Humpty Dumpty from the children’s story and an intro written in the manner of Humpty Dumpty’s lullaby, which changes “all the ‘king’s men’ to ‘all the party men’, and wonders : can they fix it?
There is no clear answer to that question. The disappointing electoral results have also uncovered the reality of a formation united in its hatreds, but divided internally and lacking a strong leadership, in part, due to the shadow of Trump and the centrifugal force towards the extremes of Trumpism, which has scared the moderate voters in the last appointment at the polls.
In campaign conversations with Republican supporters, politicians and strategists, the “message problem” was one of the recurring themes. Many warned that the party risked alienating the undecided. And it seems clear that the Democratic arguments regarding abortion had an effect (the Supreme Court ruling that toppled it at the federal level in the United States was a turning point) and the rhetoric of democracy in danger, if it was left in the hands of denialism election, as well as the appeals to a young, diverse and multiracial society, as opposed to the old America, white and Christian.
The dissensions also translated into an insufficient capacity to inject funds for the campaign. The party’s nominal leader is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, according to The Washington Post, he confronted Scott in August on this issue in a meeting with senators. The former president’s favorite target, McConnell beat his collection mark in the dispute for the upper house this cycle, but has received criticism for the way in which he distributed those 205 million dollars (a similar amount in euros): only Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania were left with 178 million. And not all of them have given the expected results.
A Trump spokesman accused him Wednesday on Fox News of having dropped out of “election races with a chance of winning, like New Hampshire and Arizona.” In the first, the trumpist Don Bolduc was one of the earliest in the defeat on Tuesday. In the second, the votes are still being counted for Blake Masters, whose victory is not clear, despite the fact that Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, came to his aid with a donation of 20 million dollars. On Monday, Trump spoke about McConnell to reporters aboard his private jet en route to a successful rally in Ohio. “I think we’ll probably have to put up with it for another two years,” he told them. “If I run and win, he’ll be out in two minutes.”
The future of McConnell, an old lion of politics with an impassive face, seems less bleak after the election results. Instead, Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s, which seemed crystal clear as a sunny day, has clouded over a bit. He has been preparing for four years to be president of the House of Representatives, replacing another veteran lioness, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, but the forecast that the majority of the party in Congress will be tighter than expected will force him to make concessions to the wing most extreme of the party. Not to mention that the shorter the advantage, the more power each congressman will have to pursue his own interests through blackmail.
One of the members of that extreme wing, the representative from Arizona Andy Briggs, launched a first warning this Thursday in a podcast: “They told us that an incredible wave would arrive. If that had been the case, there would be no other than to say, ‘Well, okay, Kevin will be the candidate for speaker. From what I’ve seen, I think we need to have a serious discussion about it.” The ambitious McCarthy, who has already launched his official candidacy, has been able to enjoy at least a meager consolation, thanks to the announcement of the intention of Steve Scalise, a congressman from Louisiana, to run as his number two. Before that, Scalise had sounded like a possible opponent for McCarthy in the race to become the third authority of the United States, after the president and vice president.
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