Republicans were supposed to be celebrating a blowout but instead were finger-pointing at party leaders Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump after big wins for the party never materialized and the Senate was declared safely in Democratic hands for another two years.
A group of angry Senate Republicans is mounting a last-minute challenge to halt their party’s leadership elections scheduled for Wednesday. They are gathering signatures on a letter demanding a delay in the wake of the midterm fiasco.
It could jeopardize the political future of Mr. McConnell, 80, who is seeking a ninth term as the chamber’s Republican leader.
Disgruntled Senate Republicans promise a “robust” challenge to the quick election schedule when they meet behind closed doors on Tuesday, an aide told The Washington Times.
“We are all disappointed that a Red Wave failed to materialize, and there are multiple reasons it did not,” the senators said in the letter, which was obtained by The Times. “We need to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”
Another faction blamed Mr. Trump, 76. Some Republicans have urged him to postpone his planned announcement Tuesday of a third White House bid.
SEE ALSO: Rick Scott puts McConnell in crosshairs for losing Senate, won’t rule out bid for GOP leader
The former president endorsed a string of “MAGA” candidates in critical Senate and governor’s races, and most of them lost.
One of them was Adam Laxalt, who was defeated in Nevada by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. The Democrat’s victory, announced late Saturday, pushed the Senate majority out of reach of Republicans.
“Those who are most closely aligned with the former president underperformed,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Those who are talking about the future or who had managed their states well, they overperformed.”
Mr. Cassidy said the election results signal that the party should be looking for new leaders. Rather than being “closely aligned with the past,” he said, “our party should be pointing to the future.”
For Democrats, the Republican infighting was a bonus to an election that they said validated their call for voters to reject Mr. Trump and the candidates he endorsed.
After the Nevada race was called, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said the Democrats’ win was a “vindication of our agenda.”
SEE ALSO: Trump blames McConnell for losing Senate, makes jab at his wife
“I will once again be majority leader,” Mr. Schumer said in New York. “The American people rejected the anti-Democratic, extremist MAGA Republicans.”
Mr. Cassidy is among several prominent Republicans calling for the party to look past Mr. Trump in 2024.
Mr. Trump has ignored calls to delay his announcement.
He is blaming election losses on Mr. McConnell. On his Truth Social media site, Mr. Trump called his longtime political rival “a disaster for the Republican Party and the country.”
Mr. Trump said Mr. McConnell backed “bad candidates” and pulled campaign money from competitive Senate races, including in Arizona, that Republicans ultimately lost.
Arizona’s Senate race, called late last week, handed a win to incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly over Trump-endorsed Republican Blake Masters.
The two losses relegate Republicans to the Senate minority again in January despite an unfinished race in Georgia, where Republican Herschel Walker, another Trump-endorsed candidate, faces Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock in a Dec. 6 runoff.
Hours after losing the bid for a Senate majority, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the head of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, led the charge against GOP leadership, but not Mr. Trump.
Mr. Scott told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the leadership elections set for Wednesday should be postponed so Republican senators can reconsider whether to elect Mr. McConnell and his leadership team.
He has criticized Mr. McConnell and others in the Senate Republican Conference for refusing to put forward an agenda to attract more voters to the party.
“The leadership in the Republican Senate says, ‘No, you cannot have a plan. We’re just going to run against how bad the Democrats are.’ Actually, they cave in to the Democrats,” Mr. Scott said.
Mr. Scott, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri support the Republican letter calling for a postponement of the conference’s leadership elections until after the Georgia runoff.
The runoff no longer offers Republicans a chance to regain the majority, but Mr. Scott and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said the leadership elections should wait until December to give lawmakers time to examine their missteps and await the results in Georgia and the uncalled Alaska race between Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her more conservative Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka.
“They want to rush through an election because they don’t want to do any assessment of what we’ve done wrong,” Mr. Scott said. “Insanity is doing the exact same thing and thinking you’re going to get a different result. We won’t.”
Mr. Cruz said Republican lawmakers “need to hear a specific plan for the next 2 yrs from any candidate for leadership.”
Mr. Johnson, a Republican who won a third term Tuesday by a single percentage point, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that it would be “preposterous” to hold leadership elections on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson blamed midterm losses on the leadership’s failure to keep the party unified against President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending legislation, which helped trigger high inflation.
“We had a number of our colleagues join Democrats, spending like drunken sailors,” on the Biden infrastructure bill, Mr. Johnson said.
Supportive Republicans argued that the legislation would be popular with voters.
“That obviously was not a winning message or winning agenda,” Mr. Johnson said. “That was a losing message, a losing agenda, and we need to discuss that internally. We need to have thorough discussions internally.”
The Republican blame game extends well beyond Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell.
Republicans distanced themselves from Mr. Scott after he announced a proposed agenda that called for sunsetting entitlements including Social Security and Medicare. Although Mr. Scott insisted that the plan was aimed at keeping the programs solvent, Democratic campaign ads claimed Republicans were planning to end or cut back the two popular programs for retirees.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, gave Democrats more campaign fodder when he introduced legislation to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was clear that Democratic voters were energized by the Supreme Court ruling in June overturning the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Mr. McConnell has stayed quiet amid the criticism of his leadership. His aides did not immediately respond to an interview request.
He is likely to maintain the leadership of the Republican conference unless Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scott muster significantly more support for delaying the elections.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Sunday that he would vote to reelect Mr. McConnell as the Republican leader and pointed out that no other senator has stepped up to challenge him for the job.
“I think it’s better we move forward with these elections so we can focus on the Georgia runoff,” Mr. Cotton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
On Truth Social, Mr. Trump called for a do-over in Arizona, where voting machines at some polling places malfunctioned on Election Day.
“Idiot, and possibly corrupt, officials have lost control of the tainted election in Arizona,” Mr. Trump said. “MACHINES BROKEN IN REPUBLICAN AREAS. A NEW ELECTION MUST BE CALLED FOR IMMEDIATELY!”