After the GOP's midterm stinkbomb, the Trump-DeSantis 2024 throwdown is next

We don't even know who won the midterms yet — but it wasn't Donald Trump. DeSantis may conclude his time is now

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 9, 2022 9:01AM (EST)

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It appears the pollsters were more or less right in predicting a very close election, within the margin of error — but pundits and analysts were dead wrong in assuming that meant that the "hidden" Trump voters would sweep in and deliver a sweeping victory to the Republicans. They insisted that the "fundamentals" all pointed that way: The out party always wins in midterms and "it's the economy, stupid," along with "crime," the great Republican bogeyman, meaning the Democrats were toast. Well, so much for that.

As I write this, it looks as though the Democrats have a better than even chance of holding on to the Senate and even some statistical possibility they won't lose the House. NBC projects a very narrow Republican majority of about 220-215 — with an estimated wobble of plus or minus 10 seats. Win or lose, there's no red wave, let alone a "red tsunami." If Republicans do win, it's more like a tiny pink trickle, eking out a victory on the margins in an election they thought would end with a triumphant sweep.

Over the next few days there will be many words written and spoken about what exactly happened and why the projections were so wrong. But I doubt that the media will do any soul-searching about listening to Republican operatives who whisper "secret" polling numbers in their ears in service to the "bandwagon effect," or will start giving less credence to pollsters' practice of fighting the last war instead of this one. That's too bad. By allowing Republicans to play this deceptive expectations game, mainstream media pundits and reporters are simply  laying the groundwork for more ludicrous lies about voter fraud, which we're almost to see rolled out after some close GOP losses. The media helped convince many Republican voters that their party was on the way to a major victory — without a whole lot of evidence to back that up — and will bear some responsibility if there's blowback from the true believers.

However this all ends up, Republicans largely failed to capitalize on one of the most promising political environments either party has had in years. Soaring inflation and Biden's dreadful approval ratings alone should have destroyed the Democrats. Yes, the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a blow to the GOP's prospects but if they had fielded competent candidates across the board they could have finessed the issue enough to get past that. Let's be clear about the X factor that led Republicans to defeat (or near-defeat, as the case may be). That was Donald Trump, with his endorsement of extremist candidates, his massive vanity and constant interference, his insistence on remaining the dominant figure two years after his conclusive defeat. That threw their entire midterm campaign off course. He's an albatross hanging around the party's neck, and he's choking it.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Republicans are not happy with him at the moment, to put it mildly. They see that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pulled off a big victory in Florida pulling all of his personally drawn House districts with him. If Republicans do end up with a House majority after so many losses elsewhere, that will be the biggest reason why. Florida is one of the only true bright spots on the entire map for them and they're furious with Trump for how badly things look in the rest of the country. After all, he's the one who painted himself as the big kingmaker.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it this way:

He's right. This is now the third straight election in which Donald Trump has cost the Republican Party winnable seats. Will that finally break the spell? You'd think it would, but we've been here before.

Trump, of course, is just lying about it. He posted the following on Truth Social:

174 wins and 9 losses, A GREAT EVENING, and the Fake News Media, together with their partner in crime, the Democrats, are doing everything possible to play it down. Amazing job by some really fantastic candidates!

I don't know whether he completely made up those numbers or if they have some notional basis in reality. But this was not a "GREAT EVENING" for Republicans. As is his wont, he lashed out at a couple of Republicans who lost, blaming their defeats on insufficient enthusiasm for his 2020 election Big Lie. He is preparing the base for his excuse for 2022: Republicans can't win anything without him.

Sadly, I suspect that a large and devoted faction of the Republican base would rather believe him than their lying eyes. By next week, this loss will be forgotten and the party will probably fall in line. Next week, you see, Donald Trump will maybe, sort of, kind of be announcing his next presidential campaign.

That's right, folks. The 2022 midterms aren't even over — we might not have final results from Arizona, Nevada and California until next week — and the 2024 campaign has officially begun. Get ready: It's going to be exactly as awful as you imagine. All the reporting suggests that Trump is loaded for bear and I can't imagine this election night will make him back down. His instinct is always to hit back harder.

It's hard to say how this midterm dud will affect his main rival's prospect. I've long believed that Ron DeSantis would ultimately decide to sit the 2024 race out. Why take on Trump for a bloody battle that will only leave him scarred or mortally wounded, when he can be governor for four more years and then go into 2028 as the frontrunner? Thing is, there will be a clamor among certain GOP movers and shakers for him to do it anyway. It's increasingly obvious that Trump's alleged magical powers are a complete fiction, and DeSantis may just decide his time is now. He's not without ego, that's for sure.

Trump's already gunning for him. After dubbing him "Ron DeSanctimonious" at a rally over the weekend, the ex-prez dropped this to reporters over the weekend.

"If he runs, he runs," Mr. Trump said of Mr. DeSantis to a handful of reporters traveling with him on his private plane — recently refurbished and put back into use — after a rally Monday night in Dayton, Ohio.

But Mr. Trump added, in remarks published on Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal, "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."

As the New Yorker's Susan Glasser quipped on Twitter (referencing Trump's famous quote about the ambassador to Ukraine in his "perfect phone call"): "Looks like Ron DeSantis is going to go through some things." Regardless of what the Sunshine State's governor decides to do, America is going to go through some things too. Again. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Elections Media Republicans