Republican Senators were split on how much to blame former president Donald Trump on Wednesday after they failed to flip a single Senate seat in the 2022 midterm election.
Republican nominee Herschel Walker fell short in Georgia’s runoff election against Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock on Tuesday.
“Well, we’re disappointed about it. You know, obviously we had high hopes that that would be a seat that we could flip,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said.
Republicans also failed to flip Senate seats in Nevada, Arizona and New Hampshire, while Democrats won an open seat in Pennsylvania. In almost every instance, the former president endorsed the eventual Senate nominee.
“Yeah, that’s kind of what he does,” Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Mr Trump’s loudest Republican critic in the Senate, told The Independent of the former president endorsing losing candidates. “Pretty good indicator who’s gonna lose.”
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who voted to convict Mr Trump during his impeachment trial and is retiring, similarly criticised the former president.
“Well, as I’ve been saying all along, what we learned from the election is that candidates whose what is primary qualification – serving – was loyalty to Donald Trump dramatically underperformed relative to conventional Republicans,” he told The Independent.
Mr Toomey will be replaced by Democrat John Fetterman, who beat the Trump-endorsed television doctor Mehmet Oz. But Mr Toomey, who endorsed Dr Oz, said the television host was not a weak candidate, especially in comparison to Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.
“No, he was a good candidate,” he said “That’s why he got 11 points better than our gubernatorial nominee.”
But Dr Oz significantly underperformed Mr Trump in the Keystone State, including in many of the counties that Mr Trump won.
Other Republicans tried not to blame Mr Trump too much.
“Candidates who don’t run a general election campaign … can’t win in a general election,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas told The Independent. But he stopped short of criticising the former president.
“He’s got a First Amendment right to endorse whoever he wants,” he said, but added it was up to the candidates to run successful campaigns.
Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who campaigned for Mr Walker, briefly weighed in on his candidate’s loss.
“Well, I was disappointed, I thought Herschel ran a good campaign and was a quality candidate,” he said. But the typically verbose senator didn’t say much else afterward in response to a follow-up question.
Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, a former Auburn University football coach who has known Mr Walker, a former University of Georgia running back, told reporters he would have liked to have seen Mr Walker win.
“He’d been a great senator,” he said. Mr Tuberville pushed back on the idea that the party’s midterm candidates were weak.
“The quality of our candidates were good. They believed in Republican conservative values,” he said. Rather, he noted how many lacked sufficient money to be competitive. Mr Tuberville also said Mr Trump did not deserve blame.
“Donald Trump now running for president, he might start picking his candidates because you don’t run for president. So you got to run with people around you,” he said.
But not all of Mr Trump’s candidates fell short. In Ohio, JD Vance, a critic-turned-champion of Mr Trump, won his race to replace retiring Senator Rob Portman. In North Carolina, Mr Trump endorsed the little-known Representative Ted Budd, who beat Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley.
“I always go back to what I said in North Carolina, we ran the table,” Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina told The Independent. “So I guess maybe we need to compare what we did in North Carolina to what other campaigns didn’t do in another state.”
Mr Tillis said that the question of candidate quality was a bit too simplistic.
“I think it’d be over simplified to just say that that was I mean, if it’s candidate execution, but it would be really, I think only I have baked assessment if people attribute it to just just,” he said.
Mr Tillis also pointed to voter turnout. At the same time, Mr Tillis worked during the summer to ensure that Representative Madison Cawthorn, the right-wing firebrand whom Mr Trump endorsed, lost his primary in the western part of his state.