House and Senate Republicans returned to Washington on Monday in a more downcast mood than they would have expected a week ago.
On Friday, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly found out at an Elton John concert that he was still standing in Arizona, while Catherine Cortez Masto clinched the majority for Democrats in Nevada on Saturday – results that have of course sent Republicans into a round of embittered finger-pointing.
Many of their fellow senators absurdly blamed Mitch McConnell for inadequately bankrolling candidates. Even though he is likely the only reason JD Vance will become a senator or that Ron Johnson survived his race, several members of his caucus have nonetheless called for the Republican leadership elections to be delayed.
Over in the House, the GOP – who look all but certain to win back the majority – have begun their own leadership elections, expecting a much slimmer majority than the one they had hoped to gain in a promised “red wave”. The thinness of their likely margin means that would-be House speaker Kevin McCarthy may end up far more dependent than he’d like on the most extreme figures in his conference.
Meanwhile, while some Republicans are focused on denigrating Mr McConnell for their loss or pressuring Mr McCarthy, many are also pinning the blame for last week’s debacle on former president Donald Trump. So far, that does not seem to have deterred the former president from likely announcing a third presidential run on Tuesday night – a declaration that will certainly make life far more difficult for his party, whose members will be forced to take a position on his every action.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, himself a former GOP presidential nominee, had perhaps the most scorching exegesis of Mr Trump.
“I think he’s an aging pitcher on the mound,” he told reporters. “And our party would be a lot better off, our country would be, if he got off the mound.
“He’s lost three in a row. Let’s (let) one of the new young members who are on the bench come forward.”
Throughout the campaign, Mr Trump endorsed candidates who would win their primaries but repelled swing voters. On Monday evening, the major networks and the Associated Press announced Kari Lake, one of the most vocal election deniers, lost the governorship to Democrat Katie Hobbs in Arizona.
Mr Romney expressed concern that Mr Trump could also cost Republicans a seat in Georgia, where Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are gearing up for a runoff.
Other Republicans were more reticent about Mr Trump’s place in the GOP. Over the weekend, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who notoriously objected to the 2020 presidential election results on January 6 2021, tweeted over the weekend that “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new.” But when asked about Mr Trump, he was more circumspect.
“I don’t have any advice for the former president,” he told your dispatcher, “but I do think that Republicans have a lot of thinking to do about this election, and I think we’ve got to wake up to the fact that the Republican Party as we know it is not delivering [for] voters, is not appealing to voters.”
Even Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who masks his Oxford education with folksy witticisms delivered in a heavy drawl, chose his words carefully when asked if a Trump announcement might affect Mr Walker’s campaign to unseat Mr Warnock – a race that now represents Republicans’ only hope of keeping the Senate at its current 50-50 balance.
“I don’t know,” he answered, saying he figured Mr Trump would do what he thought was in his best interest. “I’m not interested in the 2024 race. I’m interested in the 2022 in Georgia.”
For many Republicans, this is a rerun of the fallout from the 2020 presidential race, when Mr Trump nursed his wounds and promoted lies that the election was stolen rather than focusing on keeping then-Georgia senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in office. It was ultimately Mr Trump’s selfishness that created an opening for Mr Warnock and Jon Ossoff to win that year’s runoff races.
Meanwhile, Senator Gary Peters, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, remained laser-focused on Georgia when asked about Mr Trump.
“It’s hard to say,” he told your dispatcher. “This race is about a contrast between two candidates in Georgia.”
While speaking to a gaggle of reporters, Senator Todd Young, who brought Democrats to a draw as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman in 2020 and just won re-election last week, told Mr Peters, “Congrats.”