The Republican party—or at least a significant, influential and very vocal part of those who claim to be the Republican party—have been drinking the Trump-provided MAGA Koolaid for years now, including the almost-two years since Donald Trump failed to win reelection. Any Republican who dares to cross Trump does so at his or her own risk, as has been seen, most notably, by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who not only spoke out against Trump and called for his impeachment, but served on the January 6 Committee (officially, the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol).
As one would expect from Mr. Trump, he has since made Cheney a target of his adolescent name calling, saying that she is a “warmongering fool” (April 2021) and a “despicable human being” (July 2022) among other things. When she lost her primary race against Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, Trump said Cheney “can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion” (August 2022). Last weekend, Cheney made headlines when she said at an event in Texas that if Trump wins the GOP’s nomination in 2024, “I won’t be a Republican.” And I have to say, I do not think that Cheney is alone in that. She may be the only one, or one of the only ones, saying that out loud right now, but there are very good reasons to be extremely concerned about both Donald Trump’s possible nomination and about many of the candidates that he has been endorsing over the past year.
And he has been endorsing like crazy, issuing more than two hundred endorsements in campaigns for House, Senate and executive offices at the state level. The Washington Examiner said that Trump was embracing the role of kingmaker, but NPR said that while Trump-endorsed candidates did have an overwhelmingly winning record, three-fourths of them were likely to win anyway, with many of them running unopposed in their primaries. That is an important observation, because, as of the beginning of September, while 99% of Trump-endorsed incumbents won and 91% of Trump-endorsed candidates in open races won, only 40% of Trump-endorsed challengers won their races (4 out of 10)—and none of the four Trump-endorsed candidates for state executive office won their races. It is also important to note that some of the Trump-endorsed candidates who won likely would have won without that endorsement—or did, in the cases of J.R. Majewski, an Ohio candidate endorsed by Trump thirty days after he won the primary; Katie Britt, an Alabama Senate candidate endorsed by Trump 17 days after the primary (and after Trump had retracted his endorsement from Mo Brooks, who urged Trump to move past his claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent); and Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Senate candidate Trump endorsed 11 days after he won the primary. Trump’s chosen candidates faired particularly poorly in Georgia—especially David Perdue, whom Trump tapped to take on Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump is known to loathe, but who was defeated by Kemp 74% to 22%. Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus, who was Trump’s State Department spokesperson and who moved to Tennessee last year and intended to run for the House in Tennessee’s 5th District, was removed from the ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party after its Executive Committee ruled that Ortagus (and two others) failed to meet the requirements of being a bona-fide Republican according to the party’s bylaws.
Of the candidates Trump endorsed, 58 of them had his endorsement for less than a week, including 13 who received his endorsement the day before their win and six who received it the day of their election. In those cases for sure it looks much more like Trump wanting to attach his name to a winner than it does that his endorsement had any impact on the outcome. There were a dozen or so candidates who carried Trump’s endorsement for more than 400 days, including his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas. One of those candidates was Madison Cawthorn, who was defeated in his re-election bid, and one was Jody Hice, candidate for Georgia Secretary of State who was defeated by the incumbent Brad Raffensberger—he of the infamous phone call with Trump.
Side note – Trump has also endorsed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not expected to win reelection, though he is advancing to the runoff.
All of this is essentially a recap; what’s the point? Why would I start this post clearly implying that Trump’s endorsements are not a positive thing for the Republican party (or the country)? Well, the same reason why Eric Lutz said that the Republican party has nominated “a bunch of bozos” (August 2022). I am no fan of Mitch McConnell, but he is a wily political operative, and he has seen the handwriting on the wall. He told a Kentucky group in mid-August, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” Unspoken but still crystal clear: many Republican Senate candidates are not high quality.
Why would McConnell, who stands to regain his position as Majority Leader if the Republicans do retake the Senate, say such a thing? Well, because it’s true. And, whatever else he may be, he is pragmatic. (Which is why he also, just recently, showered praise on Arizona Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. McConnell called Sinema, who has riled her Democratic colleagues by protecting the filibuster and pursuing a moderate course, “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen.”)
So, what about the Republican candidates? Well, here’s a look at just a few of them…
Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor who became famous in no small part thanks to Oprah, is running for Senate from Pennsylvania. He shot a pretty horrible video in April in which he claimed to be shopping for elements of a “crudité,” which is a French appetizer consisting basically of raw vegetables and a dip. Nothing wrong with that per se, setting aside the fact that very few people use the word crudité, and his use of it did not help Oz in his effort to be relatable. He also mispronounced the name of the store where he was shopping, picked up salsa for the crudité, which I am pretty sure no one else does, and then, after lamenting the price of his veggies and salsa, added, “And that doesn’t include the tequila.” Again, I don’t know of anyone who commonly pairs tequila with veggie platters. To make matters worse, when attention was brought to the cringeworthy video, the Oz campaign fired back at Oz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, by saying, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Elsewhere, Oz asserted that he owns two homes, when it was later revealed that he in fact owns ten. The bottom line is that Oz fits the Trump mold—he became popular through TV, because he has been as much an entertainer as a doctor he has said a lot of things he probably now regrets, he has more money than he needs, and he really has no business serving in elected office.
Kelly Tshibaka is the Trump-endorsed opponent of Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. A video of her talking about speaking in tongues and God finding it “so cute that the only person in the world who can understand me is him” raised some eyebrows among Alaska voters, but Tshibaka is certainly not the only person who believes in speaking in tongues—and that belief is consistent with her position as co-pastor, along with her husband, of Foursquare churches. Perhaps more concerning than that would be her claim in 2015 that God has told her, “I’ve made you a Deborah. I’ve made you a mother to a nation.”
J.D. Vance is the Trump endorsed candidate for Senate from Ohio. Vance is a political newcomer; he has no previous political experience at all, at any level. He is a former Marine and a venture capitalist who wrote the New York Times bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, which also became a Netflix film directed by Ron Howard. TIME called the book one of six books to read to help understand Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. And Vance once called himself a “never-Trump guy.” But none of that means that he is a viable candidate for the Senate. In May, Axios said that if he wins the election, Vance will be “arguably the hardest-edged populist nationalist in the Senate GOP.” That’s quite a statement. A July 2021 article in The Atlantic was entitled “The Moral Collapse of J.D. Vance,” with a subtitle calling him “a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown.” But none of that necessarily means he is not a good candidate for the Senate. But last month many GOP leaders in Ohio were questioning where Vance was and how effective—or not—his campaign had been. CNN quoted one Ohio Republican saying that Vance was “like the dog who caught the car,” that he did not know what to do after he won the primary election. A Cincinnati-area radio talk show host said that winning the general election would be easier if one of Vance’s primary opponents had won—and that if Vance does not win, “it’s his own damn fault. Worse than that, in an August column on Cleveland.com, Brent Larkin called Vance’s campaign “a stain on the GOP,” writing that Vance “has awful political instincts, not an ounce of class and a tendency to embrace views parroted by political maggots he considers friends.” What’s most troubling of all, though, is some of the things that Vance has said himself. In May 2021, on The Federalist Radio Hour, he said, “We really need to be really ruthless when it comes to the exercise of power.” In September 2021, on the podcast of Jack Murphy, Vance said, “We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program,” and that is Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he should “fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people. And when the courts stop you, stand before the country, and say—quoting Andrew Jackson—‘the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.’” Last October he tweeted that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a “fake holiday created to sow division.” In February, talking to Steve Bannon, he said, “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” There is definitely a question of “candidate quality” here.
Herschel Walker is a familiar name to football fans, especially in Georgia, where he won the Heisman while playing for the University of Georgia. He is also a friend of Donald Trump and was endorsed by Trump for the Senate to defeat incumbent Rafael Warnock. Like Trump, Walker has a spotty record when it comes to his relationships with women, his business dealings and his ability to tell the truth. He claims to have been in law enforcement, including working for the FBI, neither of which is true (though he evidently did spend a week in training at Quantico). In May Walker told an Atlanta radio station that he had never heard Donald Trump claim that the 2020 election was stolen. If that’s true, he’s the only person in the country who can make the claim. Walker acknowledged in his 2008 book Breaking Free that he has struggled with dissociative identity disorder, claiming to have twelve alternate personalities. There is a lengthy list of allegations against Walker pertaining to violence and domestic abuse, and he has admitted holding a gun to the head of his ex-wife. Twenty years ago he was accused of stalking a woman who has been identified as a former Cowboys cheerleader. He supposedly talked about having a shootout with the police in 2001. Now, just days ago, a woman who has a son with Walker has claimed that Walker both encouraged her to abort that pregnancy in 2011 and paid for her to have an abortion in 2009. Walker has denied that he paid for an abortion, saying in a statement, “I deny this in the strongest possible terms.” I obviously do not know if that happened or not, but it is troubling—and does not, sadly, seem implausible given Walker’s record and the things he has admitted to doing. Also sad is the response of some Republican leaders. Ralph Reed, who founded the Christian Coalition and later the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said last week that reports of Walker paying for an abortion are “unlikely to resonate with voters in Georgia. It’s based on an anonymous allegation that is 13 years old.” Being translated, that means, “We’re not letting anything stand in the way of retaking the Senate.” Many prominent Republicans have been supporting Walker, including Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to the U.N., who is considered a possible candidate for the GOP nomination in 2024. Senators Rick Scott, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham have expressed support, as has RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. Pitifully, Dana Loesch, a conservative radio host, said, “What I’m about to say is in no means a contradiction or a compromise of a principle. And please keep in mind that I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point. I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”
Fivethirtyeight.com is calling the Georgia race a toss-up, but projecting Warnock to win. Oz is projected to lose in Pennsylvania. Ohio is leaning Republican. Alaska is considered solid Republican, but it is unclear if Tshibaka or Murkowksi will be the winner. I didn’t talk about Trump protégé Blake Masters here, but he is projected to lose decidedly in Arizona. Leora Levy doesn’t seem to have a chance in Connecticut. Nevada is a toss-up but seems to be leaning slightly to incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.
Bottom line: if I had to make a prediction one way or the other, I would not pick the Republicans to take control of the Senate. And to be honest, there’s really no excuse for that. With the current president’s issues and the state of the economy, it should have been a no-brainer to say that the Republicans would take control. The American Presidency Project posted in August that “In the 22 midterm elections from 1934 -2018, the President’s party has averaged a loss of…four Senate seats.” Furthermore, based on historical trends, the site said, “we would expect Democratic seat losses of around 30 in the House and 3 in the Senate.” The president’s party has only gained seats in the Senate six times since 1934, and it has not gained more than two Senate seats since 1934. If the Democrats gain three or more seats in the Senate—which I am not necessarily predicting, but also would not rule out—they would do something that neither party has managed to do since the first midterm election following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first election to the presidency. If that happens, I hope it it’s the final nail in Donald Trump’s political coffin.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons