A small group of Republicans never supported Donald Trump, but in post-election America the group has grown to include those who see Trump as unable to steer the party back to election victories.
These Republicans initially backed Trump, turning a blind eye to his antics as long as he cut taxes, appointed conservative judges and, most importantly, won elections.
But the Republican Party seriously underperformed in midterm elections this month, and more Republican politicians are laying the blame at Trump’s feet.
Anti-Trump Republicans once called themselves Never Trumpers. The newer, broader group has embraced the name Never Again Trumpers — and they may have considerable clout.
“I’m proud of the accomplishments — of the tax reform, the deregulation and criminal justice reform,” Paul Ryan, the last Republican House speaker and the man who gave the name to the new movement, told ABC.
“I’m really excited about the judges we got on the bench, not just the Supreme Court, but throughout the judiciary. But I am a Never Again Trumper. Why? Because I want to win, and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in ’18, in ’20 and now in 2022.”
Never Trumpers figured prominently in the coalition that returned Democrat Nancy Pelosi to the speakership in 2018 and elected President Joe Biden in 2020.
But they wielded little influence within their own Republican ranks, seen as apostates who had lost touch with the raucous, insurgent direction of the increasingly populist movement.
Integral to the party machine, Never Again Trumpers are not “recovered Republicans” griping from outside a tent they have departed, but rather powerful voices with enormous sway over its future direction.
The group includes a handful of governors, a number of ex-Trump cabinet officials, sitting lawmakers — and, perhaps inevitably, figures spoken of as potential leadership material.
Rising Republican star Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and so far the closest thing that Trump has to a 2024 rival, has been notable in his silence on the brash tycoon, as he has quietly closed their polling gap.
In a new Harvard CAPS-Harris survey a plurality of respondents said they believed Trump was the biggest loser in the midterms, while DeSantis — who romped home with a huge victory — was seen as having had the best night.
“Month after month DeSantis has been rising and now, he is cutting significantly into Trump,” Mark Penn, the co-director of the poll, told The Hill newspaper.
“If they both run, this will be quite a race and Trump could well lose.”
The findings will fuel further speculation about Trump’s future as Republicans turn their focus on the December 6 Georgia run-off election where another Trump-backed candidate is in a nail-biting contest he could easily lose.
Republicans gave up both Georgia Senate seats last year in a wipeout that also saw them fumble control of the upper chamber of Congress.
Trump was blamed for his repeated assertion that the 2020 election was stolen, which opponents said convinced many Republican voters to stay home, believing their ballot would not count.
Former Trump administration and transition officials Chris Christie, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley have all recently distanced themselves from their one-time boss, with Christie complaining that Republicans “keep losing and losing and losing” thanks to Trump’s egocentrism.
The rise of DeSantis has fueled early speculation that the former president might launch a third-party run if he is defeated in the primary — potentially devastating the Republican ticket.
“The threat is simple: Unless the rest of the party goes along with him, he will burn the whole house down by leading ‘his people’ out of the GOP,” Trump’s former attorney general Bill Barr said in the New York Post.
No consideration of Trump’s future should ignore that Republicans have abandoned him before — notably through two impeachment and numerous criminal probes — and each time he has emerged as popular as ever.
But that was when his endorsement was considered a rubber-stamp from an undisputed winner.
“It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like, three strikes, you’re out,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan told CNN after the midterms.
“That’s the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and Donald Trump kept saying ‘we’re going to be winning so much we’ll be tired of winning.’ I’m tired of losing. I mean, that’s all he’s done.”