President Donald Trump isn’t finished with politics, but politics may well be done with him.
Losers of presidential elections almost never come back (shoutout to Grover Cleveland, who was America’s 22nd and 24th president).
Consider this: Al Gore “won” the 2000 election, but he was in the wilderness growing a Rumpelstiltskin beard in 2004. John Kerry lost the 2004 election by just 118,601 in Ohio, but he was in a bathtub full of ketchup in 2008. And Hillary Clinton claims she won the 2016 election, but she was babysitting Bill in 2020.
All three no doubt were stoked to go again, but there was one big problem: money. Donors just didn’t want to back a loser — and that’s just what Mr. Trump is now — a loser.
“Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, the second-most prolific GOP donor of the midterms, said Tuesday that he would support [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis over Trump, pointing to the Florida governor’s dominant reelection victory in a state that was considered competitive until recently,” The Hill reported this week.
“I’d like to think that the Republican Party is ready to move on from somebody who has been for this party a three-time loser,” said Mr. Griffin, who funded a pro-Trump super political action committee in previous cycles but has already given $5 million to a PACE aligned with Mr. DeSantis.
Robert and Rebekah Mercer, two top donors to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, are also done backing the former president, CNBC reported on Friday.
“Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, wealthy New York businessman Andy Sabin and billionaire Ronald Lauder are among the wealthy GOP donors opting against helping Trump’s latest campaign — at least during the Republican primary,” CNBC said. “Some of the country’s wealthiest GOP donors do not believe Trump can win again and have argued for a new face to represent their party in the race for president.”
Money often decides elections, so Mr. Trump’s desire to run again may simply be trumped by a lack of money. Should that occur, Mr. Trump might not even make it to the primaries, especially if Mr. DeSantis hoovers up all the cash.
There’s more. In the days after the GOP’s dismal showing on Election Day (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, said the GOP could pick up more than 40 seats; they picked up nine), Republicans publicly blamed Mr. Trump.
There was no more fear of The Don, and a look deep into the exit polling data shows Mr. Trump truly was a drag on the party.
“Despite his huge base of supporters, Trump was much less popular than the party he seeks to lead. A Washington Post scorecard found that GOP House candidates outran Trump’s 2020 margins in 344 out of 435 districts, or about 80% of the time,” the New York Post reported.
In fact, Mr. Trump’s favorability rating among voters interviewed in exit polls was just 39% overall, and not much better in deep-red states like Texas, where his rating was only 45%.
What was way worse was that 3 out of 10 (31%) said their “main reason” for casting a ballot was to oppose Mr. Trump. In contrast, just 16% said their main reason for voting was to express support for Mr. Trump.
Thus, the midterm elections — which nearly always revolve around kitchen-table issues like jobs, inflation, and the cost of food and gas — turned into a referendum about Mr. Trump, even though he has been out of office for nearly two years.
But the election should have been a referendum on President Biden. His approval rating has been mired in the high 30s and low 40s, and pre-election polls showed Republicans up by as many as nine points in generic ballots.
It turned out that Mr. Trump had no oomph. In fact, some who kept their distance from Mr. Trump outperformed.
Take Florida. Mr. DeSantis crushed his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, by nearly 20 points, or some 1.5 million votes. His coattails were huge: He pulled embattled Sen. Marco Rubio to victory (58% to 41% over Democrat Val Deming), along with four first-time Republican candidates for the House.
But in a slew of other states, the Trump-backed candidate lost, with the former president showing no clout to drive his endorsees to victory.
“Republicans failed to make this into a referendum campaign,” Ken Spain, a former Republican campaign strategist, told NBC News. “The candidates who underperformed in battleground states and districts had one thing in common: Trump’s endorsement.”
Mr. Trump was so weak that his hand-picked candidate for the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Dr. Mehmet Oz, got drubbed by a guy who suffered a stroke over the summer and could barely utter a coherent sentence.
“This is the time that the Republican Party needs to ask themselves, are they going to continue to nominate poor-quality candidates to appease Donald Trump?” former Trump White House communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin said on CNN.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.