WASHINGTON – Former president Donald Trump’s persistent false claims about the 2020 election are an obstacle for Republican candidates and a leading reason the party performed poorly in the midterms, two prominent Republicans said a day after the GOP suffered another stinging midterm defeat.
“I think his obsession with the 2020 election became an albatross and a real liability for people who were running, especially in swing states,” Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters in the wake of Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock’s victory on Tuesday in a Georgia run-off against Trump-backed Herschel Walker.
Mr Warnock’s win cemented a 51-49 majority in 2023 for Democrats, despite earlier predictions that the GOP would take power in the Senate.
Republicans did win control of the House of Representatives, but will have a much smaller majority than expected.
Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who has frequently sparred with Mr Trump, said winning the backing of the former president has meant a candidate is likely to win a party primary but lose a general election.
“For someone who actually wants to win an election, getting endorsed by Trump is the kiss of death,” added Mr Romney.
The remarks by Mr Thune and Mr Romney are the latest signal that many congressional Republicans are seeking to distance themselves from the former president.
Mr Thune said Mr Trump’s insistence that candidates he endorsed back his claim that he won and Mr Joe Biden lost in 2020 is a significant setback for the party.
Mr Trump is currently the only Republican to launch a presidential bid for 2024, but Mr Thune said he expects other Republicans to challenge the former president.
“My expectation is that will change and, when it does, I think we’ll have a robust conversation about hopefully the future of the country,” said Mr Thune, of South Dakota.
Mr Thune last week told a panel of Bloomberg reporters and editors that his party is “evolving” and “in transition”, but declined to endorse a specific person to run for president. He said South Carolina Senator Tim Scott “offers a lot” and should be considered, and that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has shown he can be a prolific fund-raiser.
He also noted that other potential candidates, including Mr Mike Pompeo, Mr Mike Pence and Ms Nikki Haley, have bases of support.
Mr Romney said: “I think the sooner our party breaks with Donald Trump, the better off we’ll be.”
Not all Republicans, however, want to move away from Mr Trump. Some loyalists, particularly in the House, are trying to push the party to adhere more closely to the former president’s agenda.
Arizona Republican Representative Andy Biggs said he will challenge House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy for the speakership in 2023 in order to “reinvigorate the America First movement that was founded by” Mr Trump. BLOOMBERG