(The Hill) — The New York Republican who toppled the House Democrats’ campaign chairman this week is calling for the GOP to move beyond former President Trump.
Mike Lawler, a state assemblyman who upset Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, said he’d “like to see the party move forward” after the midterm elections, where Republicans failed to deliver the victories they’d promised in a cycle they were expected to own.
“Anytime you are focused on the future, you can’t so much go to the past,” Lawler said in an interview with CNN. “And I think people are really excited about the opportunity to address the challenges that we’re facing as a country. And I think more focus needs to be on the issues and the substance of those issues than on personalities.”
Lawler, 36, was a rare bright spot for the underperforming Republicans in Tuesday’s midterms, defeating Maloney, a 10-year veteran and leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a Hudson Valley district that was considered safe for the incumbent Democrat just a few months earlier.
Elsewhere, Democrats were able to defend dozens of threatened seats in battleground districts, defying expectations in a year when President Biden is unpopular and voter anxieties about crime and the economy were expected to produce big gains for the GOP. Instead, two days after voters went to the polls, both the House and Senate remain too close to call.
The results have frustrated Republicans of all stripes, who are pointing plenty of fingers this week about where the blame should fall. Increasingly, that blame seems to be landing on Trump, who had endorsed scores of GOP candidates nationwide, a number of them controversial figures who had promoted the former president’s spurious claims about a “stolen” 2020 election.
That list includes Mehmet Oz, who lost a close Senate contest in Pennsylvania; Tudor Dixon, who lost a governor’s race in Michigan; and Don Bolduc, a Senate candidate who was defeated in New Hampshire.
Additionally, in two outstanding Senate races in Arizona and Georgia, both of the Trump-backed Republicans — Blake Masters and Herschel Walker, respectively — are trailing the Democratic incumbents.
The struggles facing Trump’s candidates have helped to vindicate Maloney, who had come under fire from Democrats this year for using Democratic campaign dollars to boost conspiracy-minded conservatives in GOP primaries. The most high-profile of those candidates, John Gibbs, was defeated soundly on Tuesday in Michigan, flipping a seat currently held by a Republican.
Among Republicans, however, the string of defeats has dented Trump’s image as a GOP kingmaker and consummate political “winner.” And Lawler this week was joined by a long and growing list of Republicans who are hoping to put Trump in the rearview mirror.
Also appearing on CNN on Thursday, Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor, said Trump has hobbled the party’s chances in a state where a neck-and-neck Senate race could decide which party controls the upper chamber next year.
“In Georgia, the drag factor is tangible,” Duncan said. “The Trump drag factor is real.”
In Wisconsin, former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) echoed that message, warning Republicans that Trump is more a liability than an asset.
“I think Donald Trump gives us problems, politically. We lost the House, the Senate and the White House in two years when Trump was on the ballot, or in office,” Ryan told WISN 12 News, a local news outlet. “I think we just have some Trump hangover. I think he’s a drag on our office, on our races.”
The GOP’s post-election soul searching has highlighted the delicate relationship Republicans have maintained with Trump since he came roaring onto the political scene in 2015.
Republicans rallied behind the political outsider, particularly after his stunning upset of Hillary Clinton, even as he bucked conservaitve traditions to reject free trade, support entitlement spending and oppose a hawkish U.S. presence overseas.
But Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 election results — and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that followed — has eroded his support among Republicans, polarizing the party even more than it was during his tumultuous presidency. And his aggressive involvement in a disappointing midterm cycle has only heightened those internal tensions.
Trump, for his part, has rejected the conventional assessments about the midterm landscape. He’s pointing to several big victories he scored this week, including J.D. Vance’s win in Ohio’s tight Senate race. And on his Truth Social Account, he characterized Tuesday as a “GREAT EVENING.”
Still, behind the scenes, the former president is reportedly fuming over the results. And he’s now weighing whether to delay Tuesday’s expected launch of his 2024 presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post.
Lawler, for one, appears ready to see him go.
“I think moving in a different direction as we move forward is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he told CNN. “But ultimately, look, the voters will decide what they want to do, and the former president will decide what he wants to do.”