WASHINGTON – Republicans intensified their public criticism of former President Donald Trump on Thursday, with some saying it was time for the party to move on after an unexpectedly poor showing in the midterm elections, even as he prepared to launch a third White House bid next week.
Virginia’s Republican lieutenant governor, Winsome Earle-Sears, once a vocal Trump supporter, said voters had sent “a very clear message” Tuesday that ”enough is enough.”
“The voters have spoken and they have said that they want a different leader. And a true leader understands when they have become a liability,” she said in an appearance on Fox Business. “A true leader understands that it’s time to step off the stage. It is time to move on.”
Earle-Sears, who served as co-chair of a group called Black Americans to Re-elect President Trump in 2020, also said she “just couldn’t” support another Trump campaign.
Some advisers had urged Trump to delay his planned announcement until after the Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia that could determine which party controls the Senate to avoid turning the race into a referendum on him and unintentionally helping Democrats. But Trump, rebuffing that advice, on Thursday invited reporters to a “Special Announcement” at his Mar-a-Lago club on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 9 p.m.
That leaves him trying to launch a comeback bid at a time when he finds himself in a position of extraordinary vulnerability after dominating the party, largely unchallenged, since he won the nomination in 2016. Still, Trump has proven remarkably resilient, retaining his base's support, even through the “Access Hollywood” scandal that nearly sank his first campaign, and the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
At the same time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who easily won reelection Tuesday, is gaining new attention as Republicans openly weigh moving on from Trump.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, noted Trump’s role in lifting some inexperienced and controversial candidates during primaries earlier this year who went on to lose in this week’s elections.
In an interview, Thune said there’s “no substitute for good quality candidates.”
“We had some very contested, competitive primaries this year,” said Thune. “And in some cases, you know, there were lots of forces at work, including outside folks making endorsements in some of those races.”
Thune said he hoped the party would begin to see the emergence of younger leaders.
“You can’t have a party that’s built around one person’s personality,” he said.
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who clashed with Trump during his first two years in office, called Trump “a drag on our ticket" who would hurt the party's chances in 2024.
“We want to win the White House and we know with Trump we’re so much more likely to lose,” he said in an interview with WISN 12 News. “If we have a nominee not named Trump, we’re so much more likely to win the White House than if our nominee is Trump.”
Retiring Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey also blamed Trump's intervention for GOP losses in his state and noted Trump-endorsed candidates did notably worse than other Republicans on the ballot.
“I think my party needs to face the fact that if fealty to Donald Trump is the primary criteria for selecting candidates, we’re probably not gonna do really well," he said on CNN. “All over the country there’s a very high correlation between MAGA candidates and big losses or at least dramatically underperforming."
Trump has disputed that he had a bad night.
“For those many people that are being fed the fake narrative from the corrupt media that I am Angry about the Midterms, don’t believe it," he said on his social media network. “I am not at all angry, did a great job (I wasn’t the one running!), and am very busy looking into the future. Remember, I am a ‘Stable Genius.’"
There is also the chance that additional Trump-backed candidates will win their races. While the sweeping victory Republicans predicted did not come to fruition, the party still appears well positioned to flip the House, and could ultimately take the Senate, too. Many races remain too early to call.
“There’s no such thing as ugly wins or pretty losses," said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign staffer who was among those who had advised him to delay his planned announcement until after the Georgia runoff.
“Nancy Pelosi's political career is over," he predicted. "The Biden agenda’s dead."
Other Trump allies provided statements to media outlets on the former president's behalf, endorsing him even before his impending announcement.
“I am proud to endorse Donald J. Trump for President in 2024. I fully support him running again," House GOP Chairwoman Elise Stefanik said in a statement. “It is time for Republicans to unite around the most popular Republican in America, who has a proven track record of conservative governance.”
“If he runs in 2024 not only will he have my support, but he’ll have the support of millions of Americans across the country,” said Rep. Jim Banks, a top congressional ally.
Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance, who emerged as Trump’s most successful candidate, said if the former president decides to run again, he's confident he will be the party’s nominee.
“Every year, the media writes Donald Trump’s political obituary. And every year, we’re quickly reminded that Trump remains the most popular figure in the Republican party," Vance said in a statement provided after inquiries to Trump's spokesman.
Trump's decision to move forward now is driven, in part, by his desire to try to freeze the field and lock in support to try to halt the rise of DeSantis, whom he has long considered his most formidable potential foe.
In a sign of his growing frustration, Trump released a lengthy and angry statement Thursday evening berating Fox News and other Rupert Murdoch-controlled media outlets for going “all in for Governor Ron DeSanctimonious DeSantis,” whom he slammed as “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” as he again took credit for DeSantis’s 2018 win.
While Trump allies had previously insisted that reports of tensions between the men were overstated, Trump, who has privately slammed DeSantis for failing to rule out a run against him, did so publicly.
“Well, in terms of loyalty and class, that’s really not the right answer,” he wrote, comparing the race to his winning 2016 campaign. “We’re in exactly the same position now. They will keep coming after us, MAGA, but ultimately, we will win. Put America First and, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
___ Associated Press writers Stephen Groves Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.