The US midterm elections in November delivered several important messages for the Republican Party and for the future of former President Donald Trump. The results showed that 14 Republican candidates supported by the former president lost. Among their number were several who instigated or took part in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. The election outcome can be seen as a “diminishment” for Trump, highlighting the doubts he now faces within his party and in the US as a whole.
The most significant victory belonged to Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, who won a second term, raising hopes that the party can “turn the page” on Trump. Republican dissatisfaction has given many traditional party leaders, big donors and conservative activists the confidence to express their support for DeSantis in the 2024 presidential race.
At the same time, the election results opened the door to an early confrontation with Trump, who announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election a few days after the poll. To demonstrate DeSantis’ popularity compared with Trump, it should be noted that the latter won the state of Florida in the 2016 elections by 49 percent and in 2020 by 51 percent, while DeSantis won by 49 percent in 2018 and by 59.6 percent this year. Many Republicans also see DeSantis as a stronger candidate for the presidential election than Trump, whether that race is against Joe Biden or any other Democratic candidate.
Most Americans still believe strongly that democracy remains a cornerstone of the US political system and strongly reject political violence. Whether running for reelection or a new position, candidates who questioned the results of the 2020 poll, or promised to annul the results of future elections, were generally defeated.
The midterm election results showed that most of the country is no longer willing to follow Trump. This includes Republican leaders, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, who said that it is time to move on. Although many senior party figures have urged Trump not to run again and threaten the party’s future, he has declared his candidacy, increasing pressure on many Republican leaders. They will abandon him.
Trump’s announcement brought a lukewarm response from the public and the media, especially the conservative media, which blamed him for the Republicans’ poor election showing. The division within the party is wider than ever.
Some analysts argue that for real change within the party, conservative Republicans who have chosen to stick to democracy must now develop their own agenda and strengthen the anti-Trump wing of the party, systematically denying, challenging and distancing themselves from the MAGA Republicans, who remain a threat to American democracy, seek authoritarian one-party rule in practice, and want to politicize the judiciary and manipulate the electoral system.
To achieve this, Republicans need to communicate vigorously with the party’s base, explaining the risks involved in a possible second term for Trump and what might happen if he returns to the White House. The writer Jennifer Rubin suggested that it is not enough for Republican politicians to speak out with opinions critical of Trump. Rather, they need to create a rupture, explaining why the former president is not qualified to return to the White House. However, this estrangement requires Republicans to have the courage to sacrifice Trump’s base. To garner more public support, conservative Republicans must fight to strengthen American democracy, strongly support the rule of law, and fully commit to the outcome of fair and free elections.
Finally, one of the most prominent signs of potential change within the party is the increase in public and private discourse among Republicans contemplating a “post-Trump world.” An increasing number of Republicans are trying to sideline Trump and usher in a new generation of party leaders in the wake of the poor midterm performance. And many of the party’s significant donors have tired of Trump and are seeking to support other candidates. Conservatives have also criticized the former president on social media and news channels, and blamed his “toxic” political slogans for failure in three consecutive election cycles.
• Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher and writer. She has a master’s degree in political sociology from the University of Lyon.