Every time someone asks me whether Ron DeSantis or Ted Cruz or Mike Pence or whoever has a chance of taking on Donald Trump in 2024, I’ve always offered the same answer: It depends on who best embodies MAGA, in all its chest-thumping, millenarian splendor. Admittedly, that classification can be a bit fuzzy. For the past seven (!) years, ever since Trump had a hat-branding brainwave, channeling the America First ethos has meant emulating Trump’s stage persona: who can write the angriest tweets, who can come up with the meanest nicknames, who has the wildest conspiracy theories, who can best suck up to Trump within the next five minutes and get a nice tweet in exchange.
But as I’ve watched the Republican primary results roll in, it’s been fascinating to see which factors are actually carrying Trump-endorsed candidates over the finish line—especially during a midterm cycle that’s already stacked in the G.O.P.’s favor. In fact, a substantial number of Trump’s candidates suffered major losses at the ballot box yesterday, particularly in races that pivoted on Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Election security may be a salient issue, but Trump’s obsessive focus on re-litigating the last war doesn’t seem to be winning new converts.
Last week, I made the case that Trump—marooned in Mar-a-Lago, licking his wounds, greeting sycophants and moonlighting as a tech entrepreneur—has grown out of touch with the movement he spawned. Perhaps as serious, he appears to have lost some of his touch with moderates, too. This aloofness was best evidenced by the recent results in Georgia, the ground zero of his “stolen election” claims. Governor Brian Kemp, a target of Trump’s fury ever since he certified Joe Biden’s 2020 win, crushed his Trump-endorsed challenger, David Perdue, by a brutal 50 points, thanks to an assist from the Republican Governors Association. (A last-minute appearance by Mike Pence may or may not have moved the needle, but it was certainly a salty rebuke of Trump.) Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr also posted an equally massive 50-point lead against the Trump-backed John Gordon. And, in the highest-profile rebuke, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—the Republican who famously refused to cave to Trump’s demands to “find” 11,870 votes in Georgia—received 52.3 percent of the vote, handily beating Trump’s pick, Rep. Jody Hice, by a 19-point margin. (Adding further insult to injury, Hice had given up a perfectly safe Congressional seat to run at Trump’s behest.)