- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win over Herschel Walker in Georgia’s runoff election for U.S. Senate delivered another blow to Republicans and further strained former President Donald Trump’s grip on the party, prying open wider lanes for his potential 2024 rivals.

Democrats will hold a 51-seat majority next month, giving them the power to confirm Cabinet appointees and judges. They will have more seats on committees and more leeway to pass bills through the chamber even if they lose a vote in their caucus.

The majority also puts Democrats in a position to put a check on House Republicans’ agenda and to pursue messaging bills that counter their talking points.

For Republicans, the Walker loss is a major setback. It has triggered the soul-searching and finger-pointing that typically accompany election defeats.

“When Republicans see Chuck Schumer presiding over the United States Senate, they have no one to blame but Donald Trump,” Bill Palatucci, a member of the Republican National Committee from New Jersey, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Palatucci said it marked the second time in as many election cycles that Mr. Trump kneecapped Republicans’ chances of winning Georgia Senate races, thereby handing Democrats control of the chamber.

SEE ALSO: Warnock scores narrow win in Georgia runoff, gives Democrats 51st Senate seat

“It is as simple as that,” he said.

Indeed, Republicans suffered from Mr. Trump’s disparaging of early voting, consistent focus on the 2020 presidential election and endorsements of flawed candidates.

“We love what Trump did for the country, but it is time to move on,” another RNC member said privately. The RNC member said the number of conservative activists who think Mr. Trump “walks on water” is eroding.

“If he keeps doing the things he has been doing lately — like this throwing the Constitution overboard — I think those things accumulate and people start to question whether he can go the distance,” the RNC member said.

Midterm election letdowns for Republicans emboldened Mr. Trump’s possible 2024 rivals. Former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are among the likely contenders to present a fresh face for party leadership.

Mr. Trump has served as the North Star for a loyal group of grassroots supporters who dominate party primaries. They embrace the former president’s stolen election claims and cheer on his attacks against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans he deems disloyal.

Indeed, Republican voters gave Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and other Trump critics the boot in primary races and scared away others to reshape the party. Republicans seized the House majority, albeit with a much smaller number of lawmakers than many predicted.

The Trump blessing proved to be a kiss of death for the five Republicans running for the Senate in competitive states with more diverse electorates.

Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire notched victories in high-profile races against Trump-backed rivals. 

In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz, another member of the Trump team, in the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey.

Hours after the Georgia race was called for Mr. Warnock, Mr. Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social: “OUR COUNTRY IS IN BIG TROUBLE. WHAT A MESS!”

Trump campaign spokesman Steve Cheung blamed the party’s election stumbles on the Republican establishment in Washington.

“Weak establishment Republicans continue to scheme and work against the ‘America First’ agenda, even if it means jeopardizing a Senate seat because they refused to fight alongside President Trump and the movement,” he told The Times.

Mr. Cheung said Mr. Trump’s support was the “most highly sought-after endorsement in political history.” He noted that of the 254 candidates Mr. Trump endorsed, 232 won, which “led to the firing of Nancy Pelosi as speaker.”

The Walker loss is the latest setback for Mr. Trump, who has been beset by a string of negative headlines:

• The Trump Organization on Tuesday was convicted on charges of tax fraud.

• The special counsel investigating the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol issued grand jury subpoenas this week to officials in battleground states who backed Mr. Trump’s stolen election claims.

• Mr. Trump drew condemnation from members of both parties after he suggested that the “termination” of the Constitution is necessary to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

• Mr. Trump was forced to defend himself after hosting a private dinner with avowed White nationalist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West who recently made antisemitic remarks.

Mr. Trump envisioned a strong showing from his slate of endorsed candidates, hardening his grasp on the party and acting as a springboard for his 2024 campaign.

Polls suggest Mr. Trump is no longer considered a shoo-in for the party’s nomination.

Mr. Trump holds a thin 36% to 30% lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to an Economist/YouGov poll released last week that asked voters to weigh in on a field of potential Republican contenders.

The Posterity PAC, a group focused on defending constitutional rights, released a survey this week showing Mr. DeSantis leading Mr. Trump in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Those states traditionally hold the first three contests on the nomination calendar.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll of Utah voters had more concerning news. It showed Mr. Trump trailing Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Cheney in the Republican presidential race.

The Warnock win, meanwhile, gives Democrats more breathing room in the Senate and the promise of a reestablished foothold in the Deep South.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York praised Mr. Warnock as a “unique man” with “a great future.” He said it is clear that the country is ready to move on from Mr. Trump and “Maga Republicans.”

“The people of Georgia are better off, the Democratic Senate caucus is better off, and America is better off because he ran,” Mr. Schumer told reporters. He noted that the 2022 midterms marked the first time since 1934 that every incumbent in the party in power in the Senate won reelection.

“Overall the American people rejected … this MAGA extremism — both in knocking down and not voting for some of these extreme MAGA candidates,” he said. “I think a good number of the non-Maga Republicans … realize that if they follow a MAGA direction they are going to lose.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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