Donald Trump looks hurt.
The misadventures of his handpicked mid-term candidates have sunk the Republican Party’s chance to win back the Senate, his former vice president has just scolded him for the January 6 att*ck, and conservative news outlets are screaming that it’s finally time for the party to dump Trump.
But the president, impeached twice, defeated once, fell earlier. And as he prepares an announcement in Florida on Tuesday night that is expected to mark the start of his third term in the White House, it remains unclear whether anti-Trump forces in the GOP can regain control of their party.
“Like it or not, he’s the face of the Republican Party,” said former Congressman Peter King, a Long Island Republican and longtime Trump supporter who blames the former president for his party’s midterm losses. But King added: “The longer this goes on, the more his support will diminish.”
“It seems like it’s in a world of its own,” said King.
In addition to supporting a group of mid-term rejected candidates, the 76-year-old Trump has stunned observers with recent rhetoric, including a statement that speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is an “animal.”
Trump made the inflammatory comment 10 days after Pelosi’s husband was att*cked by an intruder with a hammer who wanted to find the speaker.
King, who admits that Trump’s strong support in the Republican Party’s primary electorate would make him hard to beat, is one of several former Republican officials to have publicly spoken out against the former president since mid-term.
Former vice president Mike Pence, who is seen as a possible 2024 nominee and is selling a new book, shot Trump a shot beyond politics, saying the former president’s words and actions on January 6 were “reckless.”
In an interview with ABC News published Sunday, Pence said Trump “has put me and my family and everyone in the Capitol building at risk.”
Anti-Trump Republicans found a note of solace after Democrats outperformed mid-term expectations – perhaps, according to some data, Trump’s Republican calculation has arrived.
“Everyone is jumping off the SS Trump and heading towards the SS Never Trump,” said Curtis Sliwa, a former New York Republican mayoral candidate who has long hated Trump.
Rupert Murdoch’s media kingdom has also begun to turn against Trump. The Wall Street Journal published an article last Wednesday entitled “Trump Is The Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.”
But in Washington, public statements by Republican lawmakers against Trump remain rare. For now, the apparent rift in the party remains mostly hypothetical, even as the stage is set for an explosive presidential primaries.
Trump is said not to be talking to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, and has begun sparking a public feud with potential 2024 challenger Governor Ron DeSantis. Trump came up with a nickname for the 44-year-old Florida governor: “Ron DeSanktimonious.”
Matt Mackowiak, a strategist for the Texas Republican Party, said Trump, thirsting for total loyalty, supported a group of “lunatics and mediocrities” midway through his term and now faces numerous obstacles on his way to another successful run for the White House.
“To some extent, 2022 has answered the question of whether Trump can resurrect himself politically, and it has failed,” Mackowiak said.
DeSantis’s promotion could be Trump’s main major challenge.
The Ivy League-educated governor led landslide victories in his state mid-term. Politico reported Monday that a conservative group conducted polls showing DeSantis leading Trump by double digits in Iowa and New Hampshire, key primary states.
“I don’t think anyone in our party has caused Trump to lose as much sleep as DeSantis,” Mackowiak said, even as he admitted that Trump would be the favorite if the two faced off.
Trump, despite his scars, has begun to consolidate some support ahead of his eventual term in office and could freeze the field with an announcement coming about a year earlier than White House candidates usually start their campaigns.
On Friday, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Republican from upstate New York, emerged as an early Trump supporter.
“I am proud to endorse my friend Donald J. Trump for president in 2024,” Stefanik tweeted. “President Trump has always put America first and I can’t wait to support him so we can save America.”
For Democrats, Trump’s return can be both a blessing and a curse. The party leadership has made it clear that it sees Trump as a threat to democracy. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from pushing the campaign of far-right candidates in mid-term primaries.
And Trump’s mid-term troubles could signal extreme weakness as a hypothetical general election candidate. Analysts say they believe the 79-year-old President Biden may be more motivated to run again if Trump appears to be headed for the vote.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Donald Trump rejected by the majority of the people in this country,” said Democratic Party strategist Hilary Rosen. “But I don’t think nasty, intimidating, unbalanced Donald Trump running for president is not good for the country.”
It looks like forces are gathering to stop Trump returning to the general election. But he has shown a magician’s knack of avoiding sordid scandals and political losses – from the Access Hollywood tape to the deadly January 6 att*ck to his party’s loss of the Senate in January 2021, which is often blamed on his electoral lies.
Each time, supported by his base, Trump returns to his status as the founding king of the Republican Party.
Last month, a poll at Harvard University showed Biden losing to Trump in a rematch. It also showed that Trump led DeSantis by 38 percentage points in the main race.
“We’ve seen it before. This is January 7,” said Doug Heye, consultant and former communications director of the Republican National Committee. “Many participants want to move on, but they all want to do it privately.”
“There are a lot of people trying to convince themselves that this time is different,” Heye said. “But I feel different every time. And we get the same result.”
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