(CN) — The biggest loser of Tuesday’s election wasn’t even on the ballot.
Candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump or who expressed loyalty to him underperformed across the board, turning what could have been a massive red wave into a ripple and energizing opposition to him within his own party as he appears to be preparing another presidential bid.
Tuesday’s results “will have a major negative effect on Trump’s candidacy,” said Terry Madonna, a former director of the Franklin & Marshall Poll.
“The bloom is off the rose, if you can ever call Trump a rose,” said a highly placed Washington, D.C., lobbyist who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “He’s not the invincible candidate for the nomination that he was in 2016.”
A lot of the Republican rank and file will now start moving away from Trump, predicted Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
“They saw that he doesn’t have a winning formula,” he said. “Candidates with a Trump message don’t win. The emperor has no clothes.”
Although Trump has dominated recent polls of GOP voters, Smith said that’s only because it’s typical for name recognition alone to make a losing presidential candidate the apparent front-runner before the midterms. He noted that this was true of Al Gore after the 2000 election, John Kerry after 2004 and Mitt Romney after 2012.
David Niven, who teaches American politics at the University of Cincinnati, said that until now Trump maintained a sense of invincibility within the party including an ability to move mountains with his primary endorsements. “But a lot more Republicans are going to question if the mountains he can move are worth moving,” he said.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, thinks it could be “more a gradual erosion rather than a sudden wholesale rejection — there are still millions of voters who think Trump was divinely called.”
But the message may be clear to party leaders that Trump cost them seats in 2018, 2020 and 2022, and is a looming liability in 2024.
There's always been a not-inconsiderable segment of the Republican establishment who kept their distaste for Trump close to the vest. “But now they’ll have a lot more courage to risk alienating the base,” Smith said, adding, “nobody likes a loser.”
Bullock thinks that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believes that Trump cost him the majority in 2020 and may have done so again this year, could lead a “coup” among party leaders.
A lot of GOP officials are asking themselves, “Are we going to let him keep us in the minority or are we going to lock arms and throw him out?” Bullock said.
“They can’t tell Trump not to run,” Madonna added, “but they can rally behind other candidates.”
What was particularly striking Tuesday was the difference between the Trumpians’ struggles and the relative success of more conventional Republican candidates, often within the same state. This suggests that an unusual number of voters split their tickets, carefully expressing unhappiness with both the Democrats and the GOP’s MAGA wing.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in New Hampshire, where anti-Trump Republican Governor Chris Sununu won by 15 points while Democrat Senator Maggie Hassan, once considered the Senate’s most endangered Democrat, won by 10 over a Trump-supporting opponent.
But the split was also clear elsewhere. In Georgia, Trump acolyte Herschel Walker appeared headed for a runoff in the Senate race while Governor Brian Kemp, who has locked horns with Trump, cruised to an easy victory over Democratic celebrity Stacey Abrams. Kemp collected 200,000 more votes than Walker.