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McConnell Blames Trump for Poor “Candidate Quality” in Senate Midterm Races

The Senate Minority Leader said Trump’s endorsements in GOP primaries hindered the party in the general election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to a news conference after being re-elected as the leader of the Senate Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on November 16, 2022.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) placed blame on former President Donald Trump for Republicans’ lackluster showing in the midterm elections, particularly in the Senate, making the argument that poor “candidate quality” in key races the GOP lost was due to Trump’s endorsements in the primaries.

Trump backed candidates early on that appealed to him and his far right base, such as former NFL star Herschel Walker in Georgia, venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona and former television host Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Some of these choices (and others like them) appeared to be based on the celebrity status of the candidates, which appealed to Trump, while others had expressed strong support for the former president, which earned his endorsement as well.

But celebrity appeal and loyalty to Trump, while helpful in the Republican primaries, didn’t pan out well in the general election, McConnell noted while speaking to reporters earlier this week.

“We ended up having a candidate quality [issue]. Look at Arizona, look at New Hampshire and a challenging situation in Georgia as well,” the Senate Republican leader said.

McConnell made no bones about it: without stating his name, he said that Trump was to blame for Republicans picking bad candidates to run in swing state Senate races.

“Our ability to control primary outcomes was quite limited in ’22 because the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries,” he said, adding that he and the rest of the party could only do “the best with the cards you’re dealt.”

“Hopefully in the next cycle, we’ll have quality candidates everywhere and a better outcome,” McConnell said.

Many experts had initially predicted a “red wave” in the midterms, but Democratic candidates made a surprisingly strong showing, resulting in that party keeping control of the Senate while suffering much fewer losses than predicted in the House of Representatives.

In the wake of these poor electoral outcomes, support for Trump has waned in the past several weeks, with many — though certainly not all — Republicans acting as though they’re ready to move past Trump and find new faces to lead the party. New polling from USA Today/Suffolk University indicates that, while a plurality of Republican-leaning voters (47 percent) support Trump running for president again in 2024, a near equal number (45 percent) say he shouldn’t.

That’s a drastic fall from where things stood for the former president pre-midterms — in July, for example, 60 percent of Republicans said Trump should run again.

There is some credence to the idea that Trump was partially to blame for the Republicans’ midterm funk. An Economist/YouGov poll taken just before Election Day indicated that 57 percent of voters overall said Trump was on their mind “a lot” or “a little” when they were trying to decide who to vote for.

However, that same poll found that other issues were important to voters, too, much more so than Trump. Seventy-five percent said abortion was on their minds “a lot” or “a little,” for example, with 64 percent saying the same about the climate crisis, 79 percent for guns, and 96 percent for the economy — indicating that many were thinking about more than just Trump before entering the polling booth.