Democrats stymie Trump’s bid for triumphant comeback

Many candidates backed by the ex-president have lost their races, as voters looked for more experienced options who weren’t 2020 election deniers

Former president Donald Trump with guests at Mar-a-Lago on Election Day.
Former president Donald Trump with guests at Mar-a-Lago on Election Day.Andrew Harnik (AP)

Once again, Donald Trump got what he wanted – to be the center of attention in these elections. But it didn’t go all to plan. The last rally of his penultimate campaign of political narcissism happened on Monday in Dayton, Ohio, where he teased his supporters with hints about a very big announcement on November 15. No one doubts that he will be announcing another run for the White House in 2024. What the former president didn’t realize then was that the Democrats were ready to contain the “red wave” that Trump was predicting would sweep across the country. He was confident that the Republican Party would make significant gains, but while the party appears to have regained control of the House of Representatives, Democrat losses have been lower than expected.

The midterm election has shown that if Trump and his supporters thought he would enjoy a triumphant return to the White House in 2024, they had better think again. Most of the candidates Trump supported in the primaries were defeated. Lee Zeldin in New York, Doug Mastriano, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire crashed out as voters opted for less extreme and more experienced politicians. All four are election deniers who believe, like Trump, in the false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

It brought an end to a day in which Republican candidates all over the country worried that a last-minute announcement by Trump at the Dayton rally would hurt their chances of winning at a time when most pollsters were forecasting a GOP triumph in one of the most critical elections in US history. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives (two-year terms) and 35 of the 100 Senate seats (six-year terms) are being contested on November 8. Also at stake: the rest of President Biden’s presidency, Trump’s political future, and the 2024 presidential elections.

Trump lost his reelection campaign in 2020, although he never accepted that defeat. In the spring of 2021, he began to make noises about another run at the White House. During this year’s primaries, Trump relished in doling out endorsements to candidates that were often inexperienced and extremist. He took equal pleasure in crucifying other candidates. At the time, it seemed like a risky strategy – what if the candidates he so enthusiastically endorsed failed miserably? As summer approached, many Republicans feared the former president would steal the spotlight away from their candidates.

Trump’s final rally in Ohio is another example of his inimitable communication style and political timing, but it’s hard to tell whether to chalk it up to calculated brilliance or just pure luck. “I’ll probably have to do it again,” he said at a rally in Texas two weeks ago. On Thursday, Trump was in Iowa to support Senator Chuck Grassley’s re-election bid when he tossed out another memorable line – “I will very, very, very, probably do it again, okay?” On Saturday in Pennsylvania, he said, “I’m looking forward to it.” And on Sunday in Miami, he told his supporters to watch for big news the next day: “We have a big rally tomorrow night in Ohio.”

Analysts and pollsters agree that Trump would have a relatively easy time in the primaries. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the only Republican that might be able to best Trump for the nomination, although Mike Pence, his former vice-president, and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin might gain some traction. DeSantis may not be able to mount a serious challenge to Trump, but the friction between the two seems to be heating up and neither one is doing much to hide it. Last Sunday, Trump and DeSantis held parallel rallies in Florida, but the two avoided meeting face-to-face. The former president said he had not endorsed the governor’s re-election bid because DeSantis “hadn’t asked.” DeSantis won handily.

“If he runs, he runs,” said an unconcerned Trump to reporters traveling to the Dayton rally with him on his private plane – Trump Force One. At another rally in Pennsylvania, Trump bestowed one of his famous nicknames on the governor: DeSanctimonius. In remarks published Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal, Trump said, “If he runs, I’ll tell some things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anyone else besides maybe his wife. She’s the one running his campaign.”

If Trump secures the Republican nomination, he might face Joe Biden again, who seems hell-bent on running for re-election, even though he will be nearly 82 years old. Other potential Democratic contenders are California Governor Gavin Newsom, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, or even Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

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