Anxiety is growing among Republicans that Trump-aligned candidates who failed to cross the finish line last year could come back to haunt them in 2024, costing the GOP another chance at winning back power in Washington.
Kari Lake, who ran for Arizona governor in November and lost to Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), is weighing a bid for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (I-Ariz.) seat, while Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) is considering a run against Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) after costing the GOP the governor’s mansion last year.
The list goes on: Republican Joe Kent is gunning for a rematch against Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) after he was narrowly defeated in 2022; J.R. Majewski, who’s House campaign imploded last year after it was revealed that he misrepresented his military service, has floated another challenge to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio); and Bo Hines has already filed paperwork to run again for a North Carolina House seat he lost in November.
The growing list of Trump loyalists weighing congressional runs has Republicans now warning against writing them off as possible GOP nominees once again.
“There are people out there that just won’t go away,” one Republican strategist familiar with Senate campaigns said. “All the folks out there that want to say, ‘Oh, they’re nobodies, they don’t matter’ — they need a reality check. Kari Lake doesn’t speak for the whole party, but she’s loud; she knows how to get attention. And, at least to an extent, it holds the rest of the party back.”
Lake, Mastriano and other candidates are among a cohort of Trump-aligned Republicans who have questioned or espoused baseless claims about the 2020 election. While they prevailed in their respective primaries, their candidacies ultimately cost the party key races in the general election in swing states like Arizona and Pennsylvania in a midterm year that was assumed to favor Republicans.
Concerns over the Republican Party’s candidate quality was brought to the fore ahead of the November midterms by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who cited that as reason for his bearish stance on the GOP’s chances of retaking the upper chamber. But it came too late after many of the party’s primaries had already wrapped up.
Those same concerns remain as the GOP now stares down the possibility of many of those same candidates running again. Some Republicans warn it would be a mistake for them to mount new campaigns.
“Some of these people are just a glutton for punishment,” said Arizona-based GOP strategist Barrett Marson.
“The only thing worse about being a loser is being a two-time loser. And people like Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano did not resonate with a broad swath of voters, and there’s nothing in the months since the election where they have changed or recognized their shortcoming and altered their strategy or message,” he continued.
In Pennsylvania, Republican strategist Vince Galko noted that GOP members in the state have also expressed anxiety about a possible Mastriano Senate bid.
There’s “certainly a lot of hand-wringing going on amongst party leaders and donors and the political establishment with the thought of Doug Mastriano running for U.S. Senate” because he starts off “with solid name I.D. and a very strong base and if he should be on the same ticket as former President Trump, that would possibly give him a leg up as well,” he said.
“I think I, like many Republicans — you have to get to the point where you want to win, right?” Galko added.
The split-screen between Trump-aligned candidates and more establishment Republicans has not only become apparent at a national level but also on a state and local level. Last month, Kristina Karamo, another Trump-aligned candidate who has questioned the 2020 election results and lost her secretary of state race in Michigan last cycle, was elected the Michigan GOP chair last month.
Over in Colorado, former state Rep. Dave Williams — an election denier who tried to get the anti-Biden phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” as part of his name on the ballot and lost his GOP House primary against Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) – was elected Colorado GOP chair earlier this month.
While Republicans believe that national groups can opt to work around state parties in key races, some acknowledge having pro-Trump populists as state party chairs can offer unnecessary headaches for viable candidates.
“The fact that the chairmen of some of these parties can get on TV and say crazy things and then force candidates to respond to those crazy things, well, that’s detrimental,” said a GOP consultant based in the West who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
Heading into 2024, both Senate and House GOP campaign arms have signaled that they’re handling their Republican primaries differently, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) already notably wading into the Indiana GOP Senate primary while the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is signaling it’ll stay out of the primaries.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has also agreed to stay out of safe Republican districts that have an open-seat primary after reaching a deal with the conservative Club for Growth amid McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker earlier this year.
“Chairman Daines has been clear he’s willing to do whatever it takes to nominate candidates who can win both a primary and a general election,” said NRSC communications director Mike Berg.
Some Republicans say they’d like the House campaign arm to get involved in some of the House primaries.
“Of course they will be on offense in a lot of districts around the nation in addition to trying to retain incumbents, but I do think that they should … consider getting involved in some primaries, maybe not all of them,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado GOP chairman. “But there are some that do make a big difference obviously.”
Wadhams worried that a repeat of pro-Trump candidates who lost their midterm races last year could “potentially deny Republican majorities from being elected in both the House and the Senate.”
But other Republicans believe some of those concerns can be addressed at a candidate-recruitment level.
“There’s no use losing sleep over this. We just got to put our head down and focus on recruiting diverse and exciting candidates who can outrun the top of the ticket and unite the party,” said one Republican House strategist, using Reps. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.) and John James (R-Mich.) as examples.
Overall, many Republicans are signaling that the party and its candidates need to offer a forward-looking vision to voters and not focus on past elections.
“Elections are always about the future,” said Dallas Woodhouse, a longtime Republican operative and executive director of the conservative South Carolina Policy Council. “And I think the people that put forward a forward-looking, optimistic vision for the future are going to be in a lot better shape. Voters are craving that, I think, without question.”