Following bitterly disappointing midterm election results, the Republican Party faced more internal divisions Tuesday about who should lead it into the 2024 presidential election and on Capitol Hill for the next two years.
At a Tuesday meeting of the Republican Governors Association, attendees in Orlando applauded loudly when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ridiculed former President Donald Trump and said he should not be the GOP nominee for president in 2024, according to Axios. Those pointed comments came hours before Trump once again declared himself a candidate in speech delivered from his Mar-a-Lago home and country club.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump’s most prominent rival at the moment, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, made some of his most barbed comments to date about the former president. DeSantis lumped Trump in with the “corporate media” as attacking him out of spite and jealousy, and gloated a bit about his own victory a week ago, comparing it with the poor showings of Trump-endorsed candidates.
“I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night,” DeSantis said. “The fact of the matter is, it was the greatest Republican victory in the history of the state of Florida.”
As DeSantis took a victory lap, Republican megadonors on Tuesday also voiced their displeasure with Trump. Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, a DeSantis supporter, called Trump a “three-time loser” and said, “DeSantis is going to run.”
“I really do hope that President Trump sees the writing on the wall,” Griffin told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. “He lost in 2020. We lost Georgia because of his behavior in a Senate race in 2020. That’s a second loss. And then this year, Republicans lost the Senate because the Trump-backed candidates in the Senate races were rejected by American voters.”
“I’d like to think the Republican Party is ready to move on from somebody who has been, for this party, a three-time loser,” Griffin added.
Christie’s criticism on Tuesday was similar to Griffin’s. “In 2018, we lost the House. In 2020, we lost the Senate and the White House. And in 2021, we lost two Senate seats in Georgia that we should have won. Now, in 2022, we underperformed both historic norms and the atmosphere that was presented to us,” Christie told the Wall Street Journal. The former governor has said he is considering running for president again in 2024.
Several other Republican governors in Orlando also expressed opposition to the prospect of another Trump candidacy.
“Announcing you are running for president the week after a general election is just a terrible idea. It’s just not smart and can only be self-serving,” recently reelected New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told the Journal.
Trump, Sununu said, “will never not be in the conversation, but his impact on the global voice of the Republican party, I think, it’s more minimal by the day.
“It’s not negligible, but it’s decreasing. ... I think the argument could definitely be made that Ron DeSantis is the frontrunner to be president right now,” he said.
DeSantis later addressed the RGA meeting Tuesday afternoon, ahead of Trump’s announcement.
Three different public opinion polls over the last week have shown DeSantis leading Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination among likely GOP voters — a national poll by YouGov, one by the Republican Party of Texas and another by a Republican polling firm in Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia and Florida, all significant states on the Republican primary calendar.
Former Vice President Mike Pence is also making noise this week. His new book was released Tuesday, and he is doing many rounds of media interviews to promote it. He began his publicity push Monday night by speaking in scathing terms to ABC News of Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump’s words “endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building” on Jan. 6, Pence told ABC News’ David Muir. “The president’s words were reckless, and his actions were reckless.”
Pence said he is thinking seriously about running for president in 2024 as well.
Trump has blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for the GOP’s failure to win control of the Senate. Back in Washington on Tuesday, some senators were seeking to delay a vote scheduled for Wednesday morning on who should be the Senate minority leader for the next two years.
In a show of open defiance, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., announced Tuesday he was challenging McConnell for leadership in the Senate in what is seen as a long-shot bid.
“I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past,” Scott wrote to his colleagues. "I understand that I won't gain the support of every member of our Conference, but we all have a clear choice to make. If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don't vote for me."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, long a thorn in McConnell’s side, was the most vocal advocate of delaying leadership elections. Cruz pointed at the Arizona Senate race, where McConnell’s super-PAC pulled roughly $10 million out of the state in late August. Republican candidate Blake Masters lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly in that race by 5 percentage points. Other Republicans, such as Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, have also said leadership elections should be held after the runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat is completed.
But McConnell is forging ahead with the vote, and appears to have the support of most Republican senators.
As for Arizona, McConnell allies pointed out that the Senate leader’s PAC spent roughly $230 million on supporting Republican Senate candidates, compared with just $15 million from Trump’s coffers.
“If you’re blaming McConnell for Masters because he pulled out ~$10M, but are totally cool with Trump explicitly raising money for Masters… then keeping 99% of it… … then you might not be arguing in good faith here,” wrote Matt Whitlock, a Republican strategist.
Whitlock also noted that McConnell did send millions of dollars to Arizona to help Masters, more than Trump did.
In the House, Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., won a preliminary vote to become leader again in the next Congress, and likely the next House speaker, by a vote of 188 to 31. But he would need 218 votes to clinch the speakership after the new year. So McCarthy has work to do to firm up support for the job he’s been seeking for years.