As the night wore on, Republicans began to express concern that the results were not what they were expecting, or hoping for. Senior party officials vented that in too many contests, candidates had embraced positions adopted by Trump that were too far outside the mainstream.
With Trump poised to announce a 2024 bid, some said the party needed to have a post-election reckoning — and a discussion about whether the GOP needed to turn to someone else.
For his part, Trump stayed mostly out of the spotlight, choosing instead to engage the public through posts on his social media site, Truth Social. Those only underscored the difficult spin job that lies ahead for him. He cheered the demise of Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea in Colorado, who lost his race to incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet. And he claimed Bolduc was “a very nice guy” who lost his race for disavowing his stance that there had been fraud in Trump’s 2020 election.
Perhaps of more note was that Trump’s Florida showcase was overshadowed by another victory party in the Sunshine State. On Tuesday night, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decisive win over Democrat Charlie Crist fueled even more speculation that he wasn’t just a serious 2024 contender but a safer bet for the party than Trump.
Just hours before, Trump fired a warning shot at his potential rival, saying a DeSantis presidential run would be a “mistake.” But in his victory speech, DeSantis credited his pandemic policies and said in a nod to the future, “I have only begun to fight.” His crowd cheered him on with chants of “two more years” — an expression of hope that he will mount a White House bid.
Several close Trump allies had flown in that morning to join the former president at Mar-a-Lago, including Citizens United president Dave Bossie, former national security adviser to Mike Pence Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, conservative radio talk show host Sebastian Gorka, and GETTR CEO Jason Miller. Once there, they mingled under a dozen sparkling chandeliers and enjoyed a hot buffet and Trump wine. Election night programming from Fox News, OAN and CNN played on TVs, and stadium lights lit up the room like it was Times Square — a helpful addition for TV reporters and media cordoned off in the back of the room.
Trump addressed the crowd and reporters in the early evening, and mingled with guests, but he spent much of his time sitting at a table with advisers including Dan Scavino and Boris Epshteyn at the front of the ballroom. They watched election coverage on Fox News.
The former president had started his day by casting his own ballot in person in Palm Beach, where he told reporters he voted for DeSantis. But by the afternoon, his attention turned to election processes in battleground states, including Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. At one point, he took to Truth Social to spread baseless claims of fraud as local officials warned there would be delays.
There was no question as to how Trump would interpret results. Earlier in the day, he had told NewsNation he would take credit if Republicans won and no blame if they lost.
Trump’s last post of the evening declared, “174 wins and 9 losses. A GREAT EVENING, and the Fake News Media, together with their partner in crime, the Democrats, are doing everything possible to play it down. Amazing job by some really fantastic candidates!”
Earlier on Tuesday evening when asked why Trump should get credit for the evening’s results, Miller said it is because “he is the inspiration and he is the one who has recruited a number of the MAGA candidates to run…no one has been out working harder for the candidates, he is still the kingmaker when it comes to the primaries and he’s the one who can turn people out in the general election.”
But that kingmaker status wasn’t so clear to fellow Republicans by night’s end.