On Wednesday, Republicans laid the blame for their defeat in the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election squarely at the feet of former President Donald Trump, starting with the scandal-riddled celebrity he selected as his nominee.
Despite being dogged by concerns about his suitability for office, Herschel Walker, a former University of Georgia football star with no prior political experience, was unable to unseat Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock. With Warnock’s victory, Democrats now control 51 of the 100 seats in the chamber.
Republican Senator Mike Rounds told reporters, “You have to have candidates that appeal to the general public.” “Herschel Walker put in all of his effort.”
While largely refraining from mentioning Trump by name, Senate Republicans made it clear that Walker’s defeat was just the latest in a string of losses in a year that started with the party hoping to take back control of the Senate and House of Representatives. Trump’s party did succeed in taking control of the House, but by a narrower margin than anticipated.
In Arizona, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, where Trump-endorsed novice candidates triumphed in party primaries but lost to Democrats in the midterm elections on November 8, runoff defeats followed defeats in those states.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters, “Candidates matter, and I think we lost two, three, or four races we didn’t have to lose this year.
Republicans claimed that Trump’s repeated false claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him and his use of election denial as a litmus test for candidate endorsements contributed to party losses this year.
According to Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, “forcing candidates to take positions that the 2020 election was stolen and making that the primary issue is a losing strategy.”
“They just weren’t having it” among middle-class voters, who typically decide national elections and almost always swing-state elections.
Trump did not travel to Georgia to campaign with Walker during the runoff election, but he did start his own campaign for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in 2024. Trump received a barrage of criticism for his meeting with a white nationalist and his remarks about suspending the Constitution.
Republicans also argued that it was time to revive their ground game by embracing early voting and mail-in ballots, which Trump has incorrectly characterized as fraud-inducing methods.
Walker was one of Trump’s initial picks for the 2022 nomination. Several well-known Senate Republicans, including Rick Scott, who heads the Senate Republican campaign arm, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, supported the former football star on the campaign trail.
Walker, a fervent opponent of abortion, was confronted with allegations that he paid for two women to have abortions after conceiving them. He refuted these claims. Additionally, he was well-known for his policy missteps and occasionally perplexing musings, such as one on werewolves and vampires.
Warnock, a Black man like Walker, serves as the pastor of the reverend Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s former Atlanta church. Warnock spent a significant portion of the campaign demonstrating his ability to cooperate with opposing parties in a state that was solidly Republican only a few years ago.
Asked if Trump’s influence had been a factor, Scott told Reuters: “Whenever you lose, everybody’s responsible for figuring out what they could do better … whatever people do on their endorsements, you’ve got to figure out how to get your voters out to vote.”
Even though Warnock took office less than two years ago in a runoff in January 2021, some of Trump’s most ardent supporters blamed the defeat on the lopsided campaign spending and Warnock’s influence.
According to Federal Election Commission records, Warnock’s campaign had raised more than $175 million as of Nov. 16 compared to Walker’s war chest, which was just over $58 million.
The fact that Trump raised at least $170 million over the last two years but only invested a small portion of it in midterm candidates drew some criticism from within the party.
Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters, “We’re losing close elections, and part of it is that we’re getting outspent three to one.”
Senator Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach first elected in 2020 with the help of Trump’s endorsement, denied that Trump played a role in the Georgia loss.