Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. November 7, 2022 and Tampa, Florida, U.S., November 8, 2022 in a combination of file photos.
Gaelen Morse | Reuters
WASHINGTON — As former President Donald Trump readies for the planned launch Tuesday of his 2024 presidential campaign, he issued fresh broadsides against two Republican governors who emerged as early favorites to challenge him for his party’s nomination: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Trump’s attacks came as scores of Republican officials across the country placed the blame for their party’s disappointing results in Tuesday’s elections squarely on Trump’s doorstep.
“‘You’re fired!’ That’s the message Republicans must deliver to Donald Trump. ASAP!” said Republican New York Rep. Pete King, a longtime backer of Trump’s. “He held massive rallies where he ranted endlessly about himself, complained about the 2020 election and attacked other Republicans. It was Trump’s ego first, last and always,” King said in a tweet Thursday.
Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Trump’s support for candidates didn’t help them in general elections. “Trump’s endorsement comes with a cost. The cost is that it minimizes your ability to attract independents and to win in November,” Hutchinson said Friday on PBS’ “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover.”
Trump even appeared to have lost the support of influential conservative blogger Mike Cernovich, who told his 1 million Twitter followers that Tuesday’s losses meant “at least no one has to suck up to Trump anymore.”
Trump and his team responded to the blame in part by showcasing his record of having endorsed hundreds of winning candidates.
“President Trump has racked up over 215 wins for his endorsements — a truly unprecedented accomplishment and something only possible because of President Trump’s ability to pick and elect winners,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told CNBC.
Trump-backed candidates did indeed win hundreds of races in the midterms, although many of them were in districts that were not considered competitive, and by candidates who were endorsed by Republicans across the party spectrum.
“There’s no question this was a bad election for Donald Trump,” said Asher Hildebrand, an associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. “With the possible exception of [gubernatorial candidate] Kari Lake in Arizona and [Senate candidate] Herschel Walker in Georgia, every governor and Senate candidate he endorsed in five main battleground states appears to have lost.”
“That combined with DeSantis’ strong showing in the Florida governor’s race increases pressure among Republican elites to find another standard bearer in 2024,” he added.
DeSantis won reelection in a landslide, defeating former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist by 19 points and winning accolades from conservative media and Republican officials.
In a lengthy statement Thursday, Trump sought to take credit for elevating DeSantis out of relative obscurity in 2017, posting on his Truth Social site that DeSantis “came to me in desperate shape in 2017—he was politically dead … low approval, bad polls, and no money, but he said that if I would Endorse him, he could win.”
Trump also made a startling claim that he “sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys” to Florida during the immediate aftermath of the 2018 election there, and “fixed” what he claimed was voter fraud in Broward County, which he said was costing DeSantis and now-Sen. Rick Scott tens of thousands of votes per day.
If the claim were true, it would amount to an extraordinary admission by Trump, who was president at the time, that he had personally intervened in a state election.
But as of late Friday, NBC News and other major outlets could find no indication that this ever happened. Sarah Isgur, who served as a spokeswoman for the Trump Justice Department in 2017, tweeted Friday that the alleged intervention “never happened.”
DeSantis, for his part, has remained focused this week on the damage and recovery effort from Hurricane Nicole, which struck his state on Wednesday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference to update information about the on ongoing efforts to help people after hurricane Ian passed through the area on October 4, 2022 in Cape Coral, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
In addition to DeSantis, Trump took aim at Virginia’s Youngkin on Friday, in this case going so far as to mock his name, spelling it “Young Kin” and saying it “[s]ounds Chinese, doesn’t it?”
Like DeSantis, Youngkin is a rising star in the GOP. His upset victory over former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021 is widely seen as having written a new playbook for Republicans on how to win statewide elections in swing states.
Trump posted that Youngkin “couldn’t have won without me. I Endorsed him, did a very big Trump Rally for him telephonically, got MAGA to Vote for him – or he couldn’t have come close to winning. But he knows that, and admits it.”
Youngkin responded to Trump’s comments Friday in a statement shared by his spokesman, saying, “I work really hard to bring people together, I do not call people names. This is a moment for us to come together.”
The statement also included a subtle plug for Youngkin’s own ability to govern in a purple state, a message he would likely amplify if he were to run for president in 2024.
“We are potentially going to have divided government in Washington and just like we have divided government in Virginia, we have proven that we can come together and get things done.”
Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S., November 3, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Both DeSantis and Youngkin have played coy about whether they would entertain a run for president, but DeSantis is farther along in the process and has much bigger national name recognition after Tuesday than Youngkin does.
Still, neither of them is anywhere near where Trump is in the process, namely just days away from an expected announcement.
“President Trump is going to announce on Tuesday he’s running for president, and it’s gonna be a very professional, very buttoned-up announcement,” said Trump adviser Jason Miller on “The War Room,” former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon’s TV program.
Miller said more than 250 media outlets would attend and there would be “1,000 people there with the signs already.”
Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, also used the upcoming announcement to drum up fundraising, sending out sweepstakes offers to win a free trip for two to Palm Beach on Tuesday “to be the very first person to meet [Trump] in Mar-a-Lago after my big announcement.”
Trump’s fundraising appeals are famous for their hyperbole, and this was no exception, telling would-be donors “this announcement will perhaps be the most important speech given in the history of the United States of America.”
But even as Trump faces detractors within his party, inside Trump’s camp his advisers see an American political landscape that has been fundamentally changed by the former president, and millions of voters who remain loyal to his America First agenda.
As Republican House and Senate leaders grappled with the changing face of their caucuses and challenges to their own positions, Trump’s influence was plainly visible.
Current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been loyal to Trump, faced potential challenges to his leadership from more conservative members of his caucus.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, faced problems of his own, as four members of his caucus circulated a letter calling for a delay in leadership elections until after the Georgia Senate runoff on Dec. 6. The letter amounted to an outright rebellion against the most powerful Republican figure in the Senate in the past 20 years.
“As a party, we found ourselves consistently navigating the power struggle between Trump and anti-Trump factions of the Party, mostly within the donor class,” wrote Michigan Republican Party chief of staff Paul Cordes, in a memo obtained by the Detroit Free Press. “That power struggle ended with too many people on the sidelines and hurt Republicans in key races.”
But for Trump’s team, the theory of the case is simple. “As President Trump looks to the future, he will continue to champion his America First agenda that won overwhelmingly at the ballot box,” Budowich told CNBC.