ORLANDO, Fla. – With the Republican Party still licking its wounds from its overall lackluster performance in last week’s midterm elections, some top GOP leaders analyzing the results are emphasizing that a forward-looking approach and greater attention to the issues matter most to voters.
And some governors attending this week’s Republican Governors Association winter meeting in Orlando, Florida, placed much of the blame for last week’s electoral setbacks on former President Donald Trump, who announced Tuesday night that he was launching a 2024 presidential campaign.
The former president over the past week has taken incoming fire from fellow Republicans angry that many of the Trump-endorsed far right GOP nominees, many of whom heavily supported the former president’s unproven claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen,” lost in key races.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who cruised to a comfortable re-election victory last week after first dealing with a primary challenge from a Trump-backed candidate in the spring, pointed to himself and other GOP governors who easily earned a second term.
“All of us were re-elected with wide margins, and I think it speaks to people had confidence in the direction of our states,” Kemp told Fox News. “I know that’s the case in Georgia.
“Looking around at what happened in the rest of the country, you could tell there were some candidates that weren’t focused on what the voters really cared about, maybe looking in the rearview mirror instead of out the front windshield.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a former senator who crushed his Democratic challenger to earn a second term as governor, noted that the “common theme… if you look around at all the governors that won” was that they were “talking about issues that mattered.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who won re-election by nearly 20 points, told Fox News “the Democrat Party, to their credit, did a good job pre-defining a lot of our candidates as extreme. … The Democrats spent a lot of money on that.”
And Sununu argued that some GOP candidates turned off the electorate, saying that some voters “said we want these policies of inflation and bad fiscal management fixed, but we’re going to need the right people to do it. We need people who are going to work across the aisle to actually get something done. So America really stood up and said, ‘Let’s fix crazy before we worry about the policy.'”
Term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan, who is finishing up an eight-year stint steering the blue state of Maryland, highlighted that “commonsense conservative Republicans who focused on and talked about the issues people cared about, it was a great night for them.”
“But where we lost was when we nominated candidates that were not up to par and that people just decided they weren’t what they were looking for,” Hogan added.
“They didn’t see them as problem solvers, didn’t hear them talking about commonsense solutions. So the folks that were focused on the past rather than the future and talked about fringe issues that most people didn’t care as much about were all almost universally defeated. What should have been a huge red wave turned out to be a tiny ripple.”
Hogan suggested the GOP needs “to reexamine how we go about becoming a party with a message that appeals to more people and that can win elections.”
Sununu stressed, “We’ve gotta be positive. We’ve gotta be inspirational,” and focus on “inspiring that next generation of Republicans, of independents.”
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, who rolled to an impressive re-election win, said, “We told the electorate what we were going to do. We talked about our agenda. We got elected, and we followed through. And I believe that is the expectation of voters today. They don’t want you just talking about stuff. They want to know what you’re going to do and if you get elected, you better follow through with it. And we did it.”
And GOP Gov. Kristi Noem of neighboring South Dakota added, “The number one issue was honesty in government. And I think this country is desperate for leaders they can trust. And we talked about that a lot, that you need leaders that will actually follow through and do what they say.”
Voices of discontent are growing inside the GOP as more insiders blame Trump for setbacks in the 2018 midterms, when the GOP lost the House majority; the 2020 election, when Republicans lost the White House and the Senate majority; and the 2022 midterms, when an expected red wave failed to materialize. Moreover, Trump’s standing among party leaders appears to be at its weakest point since the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
However, Trump has survived rocky times before and proved those who counted him out wrong. The latest public opinion polling indicates Trump remains the front-runner for the GOP nomination, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis surging and everyone else in the potential field of contenders — including former Vice President Mike Pence — in the single digits.
DeSantis received a standing ovation as he gave a keynote conversation at the RGA’s confab Tuesday night, minutes before Trump’s announcement. And, earlier in the day, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate who may run again in 2024, was loudly applauded by the governors as he blamed Trump for the GOP’s ballot box failures.
Sununu, speaking with Fox News a couple of hours before Trump’s event Tuesday night, argued that the former president is “really making an announcement at one of his weakest political points. We just got crushed in this election. You could make the argument that he’s never been weaker politically.
“It’s really an announcement from a defensive position, and, therefore, I think it’s going to make a little bit of news, and we’re all going to move on. There’s still going to be a lot of folks that enter this race, probably not until late ’23. And a lot of things are going to change politically between now and then. We still have a long way to go before anything really serious starts moving in terms of 2024.”
Sununu, asked about a potential 2024 run of his own, said, “I don’t rule anything out, any time,” but emphasized that “my priority is New Hampshire, is getting stuff for the state.”
“I was one of the ones who spoke out,” Hogan, a longtime vocal GOP critic of the former president, noted. “I felt kind of alone sometimes. There were a lot of people who agreed with me but were afraid to speak out. And then there were people who totally disagreed… but now they’re at the point where it’s too much drama, and they don’t think he’s right for the party. And they’ve seen us lose three elections in a row, and they don’t want to lose a fourth.
“I believe that we’re at an inflection point, a turning point for the party. I’ve been saying for a long time that we’re going to have to decide what kind of party we want to be, and I’ve said we need to be bigger tent with a more hopeful positive vision for America with a message that appeals to more people. I think we’ve got to go in a different direction, and that’s what I’ve been saying for a long time. And I think that that lane of people that feel that way is much larger this week than it was last week.”
Hogan, who’s been making many of the moves a politician makes in advance of launching a presidential campaign, told Fox News that “early next year we’re going to be sitting down and figuring out what the future looks like, but I haven’t ruled anything out.”
And he said that Trump’s announcement “doesn’t really have any impact on me. I think it may affect a lot of other people’s decisions.”
Noem has long been a strong supporter and ally of the former president.
Asked about Trump’s 2024 announcement, the governor said it’s “his prerogative,” quickly adding, “I think the president’s policies were absolutely fantastic for our state.”
Some political prognosticators see Noem as having national ambitions.
“I’ve said all along that I have no plans to run for president,” Noem said. “I don’t have any plans to endorse anyone, either.”
Asked if she’d say yes if Trump pursued her as his running mate in 2024, Noem said, “Oh, goodness, he hasn’t asked.”