Donald Trump looks wounded.
His handpicked candidates’ midterm woes sank the Republican Party’s chance of wresting back the Senate, his former vice president just scolded him over the Jan. 6 assault, and conservative news outlets are screaming that it is time, at last, for the party to dump Trump.
But the twice-impeached, once-defeated president has fallen before. And as he lines up an announcement in Florida on Tuesday night that is expected to mark the start of his third run at the White House, it remains unclear whether anti-Trump forces within the GOP can pry back control of their party.
“Like it or not, he’s the face of the Republican Party,” said former Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and longtime Trump supporter who blames the former president for his party’s losses in the midterms. But King added: “The longer this goes, the more his support is going to diminish.
“It almost seems as if he’s in his own world,” King said.
Aside from propping up a group of unsuccessful candidates in the midterms, Trump, 76, has stunned observers with recent rhetoric, including a declaration that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is an “animal.”
Trump made the inflammatory comment 10 days after Pelosi’s husband was attacked by a hammer-wielding home intruder bent on finding the speaker.
King, who acknowledges that Trump’s sturdy support within the GOP primary electorate would make him hard to beat, is one in a smattering of former Republican officials who have come out publicly against the former president since the midterms.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is seen as a possible 2024 candidate and is hawking a new book, took a shot at Trump that transcended politics, saying that the former president’s words and actions on Jan. 6 were “reckless.”
In an ABC News interview published Sunday, Pence said Trump “endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building.”
Anti-Trump Republicans have found a note of solace after Democrats outpaced midterm expectations — perhaps, some figure, Trump’s Republican reckoning has arrived.
“Everyone’s jumping ship off the SS Trump and swimming toward the SS Never Trump,” said Curtis Sliwa, the former New York City Republican mayoral nominee, who has long loathed Trump.
Rupert Murdoch’s media kingdom has begun to turn on Trump too. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board published an editorial last Wednesday headlined, “Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.”
But in Washington, public anti-Trump statements from Republican lawmakers remain rare. For the moment, a visible fracture within the party remains mostly hypothetical, even if the stage is set for an explosive presidential primary.
Trump is said not to be on speaking terms with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, and has begun to stake out a public feud with a potential 2024 rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump coined a nickname for the 44-year-old Florida governor: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist in Texas, said that Trump — craving total loyalty — endorsed a group of “lunatics and mediocrities” in the midterms and now faces numerous obstacles to another successful run for the White House.
“To some extent, 2022 answered the question as to whether Trump could resurrect himself politically, and he failed,” Mackowiak said.
DeSantis’ rise may represent Trump’s chief primary challenge.
The Ivy League-educated governor led sweeping wins in his state in the midterms. Politico reported Monday that a conservative group had circulated polling showing DeSantis leading Trump by double digits in Iowa and New Hampshire, key primary states.
“I don’t think anyone in our party has caused Trump to lose as much sleep as DeSantis has,” Mackowiak said, even as he conceded Trump would be the favorite if the two face off.
Trump, despite his scars, has begun to consolidate some support ahead of his possible run, and he may freeze the field with an announcement that would come about a year earlier than White House candidates typically launch campaigns.
On Friday, Rep. Elise Stefanik, an upstate New York Republican, emerged as an early endorser of Trump.
“I am proud to endorse my friend Donald J. Trump for President in 2024,” Stefanik tweeted. “President Trump has always put America First, and I look forward to supporting him so we can save America.”
For Democrats, Trump’s return could come as both a blessing and a curse. The party’s leadership has made clear that it sees Trump as a threat to Democracy. But that did not stop Democrats from pushing the campaigns of far-right candidates in midterm primaries.
And Trump’s midterm troubles perhaps signal unique weakness as a hypothetical general election candidate. Analysts say they think that President Joe Biden, 79, may be more motivated to run again if Trump appears to be headed for the ballot.
“We saw over the last couple weeks that Donald Trump has been rejected by a majority of the people in this country,” said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist. “But I don’t think having a nasty, bullying, unhinged Donald Trump running for president is good for the country.”
Forces appear to be gathering to head off a Trump return to the general election ballot. But he has shown a magician’s flair for escaping sordid scandals and political losses alike — from the "Access Hollywood" tape to the deadly Jan. 6 attack to his party’s loss of the Senate in January 2021, often blamed on his election lies.
Each time, buoyed by his base, Trump rises back to his status as the Republican Party’s kingmaker.
Just last month, a Harvard University poll showed Biden trailing Trump in a rematch. It also showed Trump leading DeSantis by 38 percentage points in a primary race.
“We’ve seen this before. This is Jan. 7,” said Doug Heye, a consultant and former Republican National Committee communications director. “A lot of the party wants to move on, but they all want to do it privately.
“There are a lot of folks who are trying to convince themselves that this time is different,” Heye said. “But it feels different every time. And we get the same result.”