Trump throws his hat into the ring and gas on the fire

Last week was an awful week for the GOP, as the party snatched midterm defeat from the jaws of victory. The anticipated big “red wave” evaporated into a tiny pink puddle.

Things got even worse for Republicans Tuesday with former President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would run for president in the upcoming 2024 election. The party’s disappointing performance last week has provoked divisive recriminations within the GOP. Trump’s entrance into the fray for the White House just adds fuel to the fire.

Trump’s entry into the 2024 presidential sweepstakes came with the usual bombast and bluster: Bad news for Americans in general, and Republicans in particular.

Trump’s speech was a blistering attack on President Biden’s presidency. But the ex-president didn’t acknowledge or apologize for his own responsibility for the massive problems that the new president inherited.

The sitting president had to begin his tenure over a nation shattered by Trump’s indifference to the economic and health problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden cleaned up the mess that Trump left behind. U.S. COVID-19 rates are way down and jobs are way up.

The former president typically absolved himself of any blame for the weak Republican performance in the midterms. But his fingerprints are all over the epic GOP failure to dominate the incoming 118th Congress.

Trump’s political track record since his upset win over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton six years ago proves he is a drag on GOP fortunes. The ex-president has struck out in each of the last three biennial elections.

In the 2018 midterm contest, his party lost control of the House. In 2020, he lost his bid for re-election and the GOP lost control of the Senate. The failure of Republicans in 2022 to capitalize on Biden’s negative approval rating and rampant inflation was just the latest in a series of unfortunate events that have befallen the Republican Party since Trump came to power.

The former president played a significant role in his party’s disappointing midterm performance this year: While 1-in-3 voters in a national Election Day survey said they cast their votes in opposition to Biden, almost as many indicated that they voted out of opposition to Trump.

The number of voters who expressed an unfavorable opinion of Trump was even higher than the group who disliked the incumbent president. In the crucial swing state of Arizona where GOP challengers backed by Trump failed to beat vulnerable Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate, only 2-in-5 voters liked the failed former president.

Politics 101 dictates that the best way to beat an unpopular president is to nominate a challenger who is or at least has the potential to be more popular than the incumbent. Trump fails this test miserably.

Republicans would have done a lot better this year if they were able to keep the spotlight on Biden, but Trump refused to get out of the way. This year’s midterm election fight should have been a referendum on Biden. Instead, Trump’s refusal to leave the stage forced voters to choose between the current and former president. As a result, the GOP blew a golden opportunity to gain control of Congress with decisive majorities in the House and Senate.

The national Election Day poll showed that Democrats surprisingly won the majority of votes from people who somewhat disapproved of Biden’s presidential performance. Why? Because the alternative — a party tainted by Trump and dominated by his loyalists — was even worse.

The best demonstration of Trump’s destructive effect on the GOP was in the 3rd Congressional District of Washington state. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) was a reliably conservative member of the GOP House caucus who had the courage to vote for Trump’s impeachment. She paid the price when she lost her primary to the Trump-backed candidate Joe Kent. His extreme views were apparently unacceptable to the voters of this moderately conservative district. Now the district has a progressive Democratic headed to Congress, Rep.-elect Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.

Trump’s nomination for 2024 is no sure thing. Trump’s failures have cost him the enthusiastic support of Republican kingmaker Fox News. He faces a strong challenger in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) who just won a landslide reelection victory.

A national poll of Republicans by YouGov.com after Election Day showed DeSantis leading Trump in a two-way trial heat. A YouGov poll conducted just before Election Day had the former president with an advantage over the governor.

In the post-election survey, the former president was even tied with the governor among strong Republicans. DeSantis won the support of soft Republican voters, which indicates that he has more potential to attract crossover voters. But Trump‘s support among die-hard Republicans does make him a strong contender for his party’s nomination and a threat to GOP unity after the nomination battle.

Supporting Trump is an addiction that many Republicans know is bad for them, but many can’t shake the habit. The GOP is torn between evidence that failed former president is political poison and the loyalty of legions of ardent Trump supporters who vote in GOP primaries. Ultimately, this toxic combination is a recipe for another GOP failure in two years.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon

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