As Republicans grapple with the disappointment of their lackluster midterm performance, party leaders are at odds over what, or who, is to blame for their failure to capture the majority in the Senate.
Despite projections that the GOP was favored to seize control of both chambers of Congress, Republicans were dismayed as they failed to capture the Senate and clinched only a slim majority in the House. Senate Republicans spent roughly three hours on Tuesday in a GOP conference lunch reflecting on the election results, exposing tensions among Republicans over what exactly went wrong. GOP senators spent even longer holding leadership elections the next day.
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“There are a lot of crosswinds, a lot of difficulties, and everybody’s kind of got their own theory,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters on Wednesday.
Some Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), suggested Republican losses were due to candidates being “crushed by independent voters,” referring to warnings he made earlier in the midterm cycle about “candidate quality” that could sink GOP chances. Those warnings were directed toward Republican nominees who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump and were part of what prompted Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to mount a failed leadership challenge to McConnell this week.
However, not all Republicans are convinced of that theory.
“I think Sen. McConnell’s view is that Trump is largely to blame and that Republicans have an image problem because of Trump,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told reporters. “I have to say that I don’t agree with that.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) similarly deflected blame away from the former president, pointing to Trump-backed candidates who were able to defeat their Democratic opponents.
“[Trump] got J.D. Vance through the primary, and then J.D. won the general election by 8 points,” Portman said, referring to J.D. Vance’s victory over Democrat Tim Ryan in Ohio. However, the Republican senator conceded that the party ran some candidates whom “more independent-minded voters just couldn’t support.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said the finger-pointing is ultimately not helpful or productive for the party.
“One of the things I tried to do … in a situation like this is [ask] ‘What role did I play?’ not ‘What role did Donald Trump play?’ not ‘What role did Mitch McConnell or Rick Scott or anybody else’ — ‘What’s my culpability?’” he said on Tuesday. “Because that’s the only thing I can control. I do think we need to do more of that and less of looking to appropriate blame or to take credit.”
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Cramer conceded that the party may have misjudged the role abortion played in the midterm elections.
“I think we underestimated the effect of the abortion rights issue on people,” he said. “When I say I think we’ve underestimated the impact that it had, it doesn’t change my position. But it may change how we talk about it or our willingness to talk about it. How we form our words, how we express our compassion, as opposed to our anxieties or our anger.”