Just hours before Americans started learning the results of the midterm elections, Donald Trump explained his perspective on the best way to interpret the vote tallies. “Well, I think if [Republicans] win, I should get all the credit,” the former president said. “If they lose, I should not be blamed at all.”
He added that, as far as he’s concerned, he’d elevated “very good candidates,” but if they fell short, “they will blame everything on me.”
Trump didn’t specify who “they” were, but if he was describing his intraparty critics, the prediction was accurate.
Donald J. Trump faced unusual public attacks from across the Republican Party on Wednesday after a string of midterm losses by candidates he had handpicked and supported, a display of weakness as he prepared to announce a third presidential campaign as soon as next week. As the sheer number of missed Republican opportunities sank in, the rush to openly blame Mr. Trump was as immediate as it was surprising.
Some of the blame came by way of Republicans in the media — the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, for example, on Thursday labeled the former president the GOP’s “biggest loser” — while other prominent voices in the party, including former House Speaker Paul Ryan, implored Republicans to take this opportunity to move forward in a new, non-Trump direction.
To the extent that reality has any role in the discussion, the former president’s critics have a point. Republicans really were burdened by weak and failed candidates whom Trump had championed, even over more credible alternatives. What's more, he kept his unpopular persona at the forefront of the cycle, which also didn't do GOP candidates any favors.
This isn’t a situation in which disappointed partisans are blaming Trump because he’s a convenient foil; this is a situation in which the former president has earned his ostensible allies’ ire.
In private, the Republican doesn’t appear to be handling this well. According to the Times’ report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, Trump has spread the blame around, targeting Fox News’ Sean Hannity and casino mogul Steve Wynn. The account added that the former president has even complained about his own wife, who he believes gave him poor advice about which candidates to support.
But in public, Trump’s reactions have hardly been any better. By way of his social media platform, the Republican argued that the midterm cycle was “a very big victory” for him — because he endorsed a great many candidates, and only 16 of them lost this week.
I don’t know if that figure is correct — many races haven’t yet been called, and he might very well be undercounting his misses — but even taken at face value, 16 losses for Trump-backed candidates, including many defeats in critically important contests, isn’t something to brag about.
The former president went on to argue that the aforementioned New York Times article doesn’t count, in part because it quotes “enemies and losers,” and in part because the piece was written by journalists Trump considers to be “THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!!!”
It culminated in a message in which Trump insisted he “did a great job” in the midterms, concluding, “Remember, I am a ‘Stable Genius.’”
I can’t say with confidence whether, and to what degree, Republicans are serious about moving on from Trump and Trumpism. There’s been similar talk for years, but it hasn’t shaken his grip on the GOP.
What’s obvious, however, is the existence of this conversation — less than a week before he's expected to formally launch another presidential campaign — has rattled the former president in ways he’s struggling to hide.