Donald Trump was branded the Republican party’s “biggest loser” following the US midterms on Tuesday, while his party rival Ron DeSantis swept to victory in a landslide in Florida, giving him a strong platform to challenge the former president in 2024.
If Trump was the Republican loser of the US midterms – despite not being on the ballot paper – it was DeSantis who emerged the party’s big winner. Before Tuesday’s election night, when the beaming Republican governor took to the stage in Tampa with his wife Casey and children to claim victory over “woke ideology”, Trump had looked like the probable 2024 presidential Republican candidate.
But after DeSantis’s highly convincing re-election against Democrat Charlie Crist, in which the governor took 59.4% of the vote with 99% reporting, the relative political newcomer is being tipped as a potential GOP frontrunner.
In an indicator of the changing tide, News Corp newspaper the New York Post, historically a champion of the former president and which just two years ago endorsed Trump for re-electiondeclared the Florida governor “DeFUTURE” on its front page.
An article by Fox Newsanother traditional Trump ally, reported that Trump was “blasted across [the] media spectrum”, citing a quote describing the former president as the “biggest loser tonight”.
Trump, meanwhile, who only days ago was teasing the date on which he is expected to announce a 2024 presidential run, was on Wednesday being blamed by members of his own party for the failure of the Republicans’ anticipated “red wave”.
Perhaps in anticipation of DeSantis’s ascension, Trump, who is expected to launch his third run for the Republican presidential nomination this month, issued a pre-midterms warning to DeSantis, telling him not to run.
“I think if he runs he could hurt himself very badly. I think the base would not like it – I don’t think it would be good for the party,” he told reporters on his plane on Monday night.
If DeSantis does not heed his warning, he would, he threatened, reveal “things” about him “that won’t be very flattering”.
DeSantis has refused to say whether he will serve his second term in full and did not mention Trump in his victory speech.
But when supporters chanted “Two more years!” – governors usually serve four-year terms – he smiled and said: “Thank you very much”.
He did, however, reference the Covid pandemic – during which he claimed Floridawhich had the third-highest death toll of any US state – was a “refuge of sanity when the world went mad”.
“We did not back down,” he said. “We had the conviction to guide us and we had the courage to lead. We made promises. We made promises to the people of Florida and we have delivered on those promises. And so today, after four years, the people have delivered their verdict.”
Last week, Trump attacked DeSantis, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally in Pennsylvania. He has also called him “a fine guy”, claiming they did not have a “tiff” and that Trump was “way up in the polls” and on Tuesday told reporters that he had voted for him.
Tuesday night had been expected to be a moment of triumph for Trump, a precursor for his anticipated forthcoming return to the limelight. But an underwhelming performance by his party – particularly among his endorsed candidates – meant it did not turn out as planned.
Trump appeared uneasy at an election watch party he hosted at his plush Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday night, after it was clear there would be no “red wave” that he had implored his supporters to deliver.
The election night gathering, organised in the large ballroom at his Florida property, was not an event where the often talkative Trump seemed particularly interested in addressing guests or even speaking to reporters after he delivered a short and solitary speech.
Trump, expected to announce his third campaign for the White House next week, had anticipated strengthening his position as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination by delivering wins for candidates he endorsed, but the results in the most competitive contests were decidedly mixed.
In Pennsylvania, the Democrat John Fetterman defeated the Republican Mehmet Oz to flip a Senate seat, while the Democrat Josh Shapiro won the governor’s race against the Republican Doug Mastriano. In Arizona, Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who followed Trump’s playbook, were both behind Democratic counterparts, though in Ohio, the Republican JD Vance did score a Senate win.
The close races for Trump-endorsed candidates appeared to confound the former president, whose only formal remarks came early in the evening, when he delivered a clipped speech standing in front of a row of American flags at the head of the ornate white-and-gold ballroom.
Trump had entered to rapturous applause after top aides from his political team and political action committees – some of whom had been ordered to spend the evening at Mar-a-Lago – and donors had filled the room in anticipation of what the crowd regarded as the main draw of the event.
But in an indication of his unease, Trump simply said it had been an “interesting evening” before praising the Republican Senate candidate Katie Britt, whose win in Alabama was considered a foregone conclusion.
Trump was silent about the Florida governor – and his potential 2024 presidential rival – Ron DeSantis’s sweeping re-election.