Former President Donald Trump was demonstrably weakened — and President Joe Biden strengthened — by Tuesday’s midterm election results, just as the two begin to circle each other for a possible 2024 rematch.
Even with several key race calls outstanding, Republicans failed to generate the “red wave” Trump had predicted. Many of his favored candidates in marquee races, including election deniers in key swing states, lost to Democrats. And Trump’s most formidable potential rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, won re-election in a 20-point romp.
Though Democrats could still lose at least one chamber of Congress as of Wednesday morning, an outcome that could shut down Biden’s legislative agenda and lead to investigations of his administration, Biden and his party emerged in a stronger position than was expected. Critics in his own party fell silent Tuesday night. And Biden allies said they believe he is on track to win a second term.
“To run against Trump, the president just needs to keep doing his job,” Cedric Richmond, the co-chairman of Biden’s 2020 campaign and a former top White House official, said Tuesday before polls closed. “What the president has tried to do and what he’s accomplished is popular.”
But on the Republican side, party strategists were left with questions about whether pursuing Trump’s brand of politics, and nominating him for the presidency a third consecutive time, might be a political dead end. Democrats were in position to lose fewer seats in Congress in this year’s midterms than Republicans did when Trump was president in 2018.
“It’s not even a good night,” one former Trump campaign official said of the GOP’s performance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering fellow Republicans. “It’s just a this-should-have-been-better night.”
That person said Republicans will be in danger in 2024 if Trump wins the nomination and focuses on punishing enemies rather than expanding his political tent.
“Is this is a revenge tour or is it an attempt to win? Because it can’t be both,” the former Trump campaign official said. “That’s how Joe Biden gets re-elected.”
While Biden and Trump are instant favorites to win their parties’ nominations — 1940 was the last time a president or former president lost his party’s nod — political strategists say each one faces serious obstacles to winning a second term in the Oval Office.
Biden’s approval ratings are low, and Democrats have criticized the White House for being too slow to respond to voters’ concerns about the economy.
Jim Messina, who managed Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, said the president needs his team to key in on kitchen table issues and his party to clear the field.
“One, they’ve got to focus on the economy. Presidential elections are economic elections, and especially in the middle of a possible recession, these guys have to be laser-focused on that,” Messina said of the Biden White House. “And then two, they need to make sure they don’t have a primary — and that’s less about him and more about Democrats overall remembering that the last two incumbents who had primaries, Carter and [George H.W.] Bush, lost the general election.”
At his last pre-midterm rally on Monday night in Ohio, Trump teased the crowd by saying that he would have a “very big announcement” to make next Tuesday, Nov. 15, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Trump has long been eager to declare his candidacy, but advisers prevailed upon him to delay until after the midterm elections. They were concerned that he might distract from GOP campaigns and prematurely limit his political flexibility by triggering campaign finance restrictions on candidates.
Still, some Republicans say Trump would be hurting himself by getting in the race next week.
It is unusual for a party out of power to avoid a serious nomination fight, but not many presidents have sought to reclaim their old job in recent American history. In addition to Trump, the list of possible 2024 contenders includes DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several other current and former officials.
On the Democratic side, several lawmakers have said they don’t believe Biden should seek a second term, and a handful of party luminaries — led by Vice President Kamala Harris — are seen as likely candidates if he opts out.
But Biden has said he intends to run, despite some grumbling within his party.
“There’s going to be bed-wetting all over the place,” Messina said Tuesday, arguing that it is “crazy” to think Democrats would be better off with a different nominee. “If Democrats want to lose the general election in 2024, they should start screwing with Joe Biden.”