Come election night, however, it was DeSantis holding the ebullient victory party, having won reelection in a 20-point landslide, almost 15 points better than Trump’s 2020 margin in their shared home state. At the party, DeSantis’s supporters chanted “Two more years!” — encouraging the governor to seek the presidency before finishing his second term.
Trump’s own watch party, by contrast, was diminished by a tropical storm barreling toward his Mar-a-Lago resort, located by Wednesday morning in a mandatory evacuation zone. Trump spoke briefly Tuesday night to thank reporters for attending, boast about his winning record of endorsements and congratulate a few Republican candidates who’d won or were leading. But not DeSantis.
“Wouldn’t that be funny if we were better in the general election than on the [primary] nominations,” Trump mused, as if still processing the results himself. He spent Tuesday night among longtime advisers and donors who, like other Republicans, expected a better showing on Tuesday.
After leaving the stage, Trump took to his social media site Truth Social to cheer for the downfall of Republican Senate hopefuls Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and Joe O’Dea in Colorado, whose victories could have lifted the party toward a majority that remained uncertain Tuesday night.
The full picture of Tuesday’s results has yet to be finalized, and Trump notched several wins with several of his favored candidates in marquee Senate races, such as Ted Budd in North Carolina and J.D. Vance in Ohio. (Vance, notably, thanked dozens of people in his victory speech, but not Trump.) Nonetheless, the results were shaping up to be a mixed bag for Republicans, not the blowout that Trump hoped to take credit for before quickly announcing his own 2024 candidacy.
“Candidate quality matters,” Erick Erickson, a longtime GOP commentator, said of what he described as a disappointing showing for Trump. “They weren’t good candidates. They had more allegiance to him than anything else. The GOP might still win both [chambers] but this is not the night they expected.”
Trump’s allies acknowledged that the early returns didn’t live up to grand expectations — but remained bullish about the GOP’s chances to win full control of Congress.
“As President Trump looks to the future, he will continue to champion his America First agenda that won overwhelmingly at the ballot box,” his spokesman Taylor Budowich said. He called Trump’s win-loss record for endorsements “a truly unprecedented accomplishment and something only possible because of President Trump’s ability to pick and elect winners.”
DeSantis’s allies trumpeted his resounding reelection Tuesday as a sign that national GOP energy is behind him. The governor romped over Democrat Charlie Crist and looked set to win Miami-Dade County, which hasn’t been claimed by a Republican since former governor Jeb Bush in 2002.
Still, it wasn’t only DeSantis among potential Trump challengers who looked emboldened on Tuesday night, rather than cowed to clear the field for Trump. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) used his victory speech to allude to his own potential ambitions, saying he wished his grandfather had “lived long enough to see perhaps another man of color elected president of the United States.”
And Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin appeared on Fox News, winking at his own aspirations. “Sounds like you have been thinking about it,” Fox host Brett Baier said about a White House run. Youngkin answered, “Well, I appreciate it. I am always humbled on this discussion.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who won reelection after surviving a primary challenge encouraged by Trump and running far ahead of Trump’s handpicked Senate candidate Herschel Walker on Tuesday, took an unusual swipe at Trump in his victory speech. He brushed back at “presidents, both current and former” for criticizing his early move to lift pandemic restrictions.
Midterms are inevitably a referendum on the party in power, but Trump made this year’s about him, as well. Though not on the ballot himself, the “Trump ticket” was, as he called his slate of endorsed candidates in key states. How those candidates fare as votes are tallied is sure to fuel rifts within the Republican Party over the electoral viability of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement after losses in 2018 and 2020.
Their success would embolden hard-liners to press forward with remolding the party in Trump’s image, while the loss of winnable seats would add to concerns that Trump’s grip on the party is hobbling its chances with independents and swing voters who decide close elections.
“Trump candidates were a drag on the party and the messaging of all our candidates,” said Bill Palatucci, a member of the Republican National Committee from New Jersey and Trump critic who said Democrats wanted to send a message against Trump and his supporters even though he wasn’t on the ballot. “We were constantly having to distance ourselves from their support of the former president.”
Trump was by far the largest influence on this cycle’s GOP primaries, with about 82 percent of his endorsed candidates (not including incumbents) going on to win, according to a Washington Post analysis. In some cases, Trump swooped in to jump on board with candidates already on track to win, such as Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano. But for others, such as Mehmet Oz’s Senate primary squeaker in the same state, Trump’s backing was clearly decisive. But on Tuesday night, Mastriano was projected to lose dramatically, and Oz trailed in a tight race.
Trump was angling to claim credit for Republican gains, with his team pointing to his 30 rallies, 50 in-person fundraisers, 60 tele-rallies and robocalls, and more than $16 million in super PAC ads for statewide offices in crucial states.
“Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit,” he said in an interview posted Tuesday with the network NewsNation. “If they lose, I should not be blamed at all.”
Trump had been determined to seize the spotlight Tuesday night, throwing a big party in a gilded ballroom at his club, inviting current and former advisers to see him speak flanked by flags. He planned to interview staffers later this week and had scheduled his presidential announcement for next week, according to multiple advisers.
Expecting a Republican wave, Trump wanted to go so far as to declare his candidacy for president before Election Day, according to people familiar with the discussions. But advisers talked him out of it, arguing he could get drowned out by other news or blamed for mobilizing Democratic turnout.
While advisers succeeded in pushing back a formal announcement, Trump became increasingly explicit about his intentions, telling his supporters they’d be “so happy” “very soon” and finally, at a Monday rally, promising a “very special announcement” for next Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Part of his urgency, advisers said, came from his desire to pressure other Republicans to line up behind him and clear the field of potential rivals, especially DeSantis.
Trump has fixated on DeSantis more than other potential 2024 rivals, watching his large crowds and growing frustrated at his positive news coverage — while calling him ungrateful for Trump’s support in his 2018 campaign, allies say. He tested many nicknames and attacks before landing on “Ron DeSanctimonious” last week; advisers said the reception was mixed, and he did not use it again this weekend.
On Monday night, Trump attacked DeSantis while speaking to reporters on his plane and even threatened to release damaging information about him should he run.
“If he did run, I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign,” Trump told a small group of reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“I think if he runs, he could hurt himself very badly,” he said.