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Republicans Are Scrambling to Find a Culprit for the Midterms

Ambition, blame, and awkwardness about Donald Trump.
November 15, 2022
Republicans Are Scrambling to Find a Culprit for the Midterms
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, DC, October 21, 2020. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

In the wake of its midterm failures, the Republican party has splintered in its attempt to determine what, or who, is to blame.

The Very Online wing of the GOP quickly came up with safe, amorphous villains: ballot-harvesting, single women, and voting machines. But on Capitol Hill, the opinions about what went wrong are a bit more pointed.

The MAGA Wing: Blame Anyone But Trump

For the far right, blaming Donald Trump is simply out of the question. Instead, they see something else ailing the party.

Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told The Bulwark that the culprit for Republicans’ poor performance in House races was redistricting.

“I think a lot of it has to do with redistricting and the way that the redistricting process went,” he told me. “Certainly when you look at where the gains were, states where the redistricting process was probably a little bit more favorable. And the ones where they didn’t do as well, perhaps the opposite was true.”

When asked whether Trump deserves blame for the endorsements he made and for his role in handpicking some of the candidates the GOP ran, Meadows said he does not believe Republicans had a “candidate quality issue,” but conceded that they need to better tailor messaging in the next cycle.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he claims was too close with Democrats to deliver tangible wins for Republican Senate candidates.

“You would fire a football coach if the team loses when they should have won. We should have won,” Cruz said on his podcast. “And I got to say, Mitch’s philosophy as leader is to snuggle up to the Democrats.”

“I am so pissed off, I cannot even see straight,” he added. “We had an extraordinary opportunity. We had a generational opportunity. This should have been a fundamental landslide election.”

The most straightforward finger pointing came from one of the few Trump-backed Senate candidates to eke out a win: J.D. Vance wrote an op-ed for the American Conservative simply titled “Don’t Blame Trump.”

Instead, Vance blamed small-dollar donations raised via Democratic fundraising tools.

“The reason is ActBlue,” he wrote. “ActBlue is the Democrats’ national fundraising platform, where 21 million individual donors shovel small donations into every marquee national race.”

Vance noted that the GOP’s fundraising tactics rely heavily on big donors and exorbitant consultant fees.

“Republican small dollar fundraising efforts are paltry by comparison, and Republican fundraising efforts suffer from high consultant and ‘list building’ fees—where Republicans pay a lot to acquire small-dollar donors,” he wrote.

Elite Republicans: It’s Complicated 

Republicans with multiple elections under their belts from before the Trump era have mixed feelings about what went wrong.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) during the 2014 midterm elections, during which Republicans took back the Senate after six years in the minority. He blamed the candidates.

“I wouldn’t want to criticize any particular candidate but I know when I chaired the NRSC, we knew that if you were a candidate that could win a primary but couldn’t win a general election, you didn’t serve the purpose of getting us a majority,” Moran told The Bulwark.

Moran said there were “many instances” in which candidates heavily involved with Trump lost. “But I would leave the burden on the candidate,” he said.

Marco Rubio, who handily beat his Democratic opponent in Florida, was agnostic about what happened, but suggested candidate quality was “one of the things we should be focused on.”

While distancing himself from criticisms of Trump, Rubio told The Bulwark he wants to have a conversation about the former president’s role in the primaries and elections prior to any Senate leadership selections for the next Congress.

“I think we should be talking about what happened before I give you an opinion on that,” he said. “I need to learn more about it. But that’s one of the things I think we should be answering before we have leadership votes.”

One common refrain among Republicans was that a major factor was the party’s stance opposing abortion in all or most cases, which the Dobbs decision pushed to the top of voters’ minds this election cycle.

And Mitt Romney told reporters that he believes that in addition to abortion policies, Trump’s impact on the many of the failed races is obvious.

“I think President Trump was an albatross on the electoral prospects of some of our candidates,” he said. “He helped select some of the people who turned out to not be very effective candidates.”

But Romney’s criticism stood out for its boldness. Very few elected Republicans are willing to go there yet.

Just like in 2015.

Joe Perticone

Joe Perticone is national political reporter at The Bulwark. Follow him on Twitter: @JoePerticone. He can be reached at: [email protected].