Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blamed the power former President Trump exerted in GOP primaries for the “candidate quality” issues his party struggled with in key races.
Speaking to reporters a week after Republicans lost the Senate runoff in Georgia, which expanded the Senate Democratic majority to 51 seats, McConnell said his party was hampered by weak candidates in several battleground states.
“I never said there was a red wave. I said we had a bunch of close races,” McConnell told reporters, citing the caution flags he raised in August when some Republicans were predicting big GOP gains in Congress.
“We ended up having a candidate quality [issue],” McConnell said. “Look at Arizona, look at New Hampshire and a challenging situation in Georgia as well.”
McConnell noted that his affiliated super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, did intervene in two primaries in Alabama and Missouri, but he argued there was little Senate GOP leaders could do in races where Trump endorsed MAGA-style candidates or Republicans who claimed the 2020 election was stolen.
The Senate Leadership Fund spent more than $4 million to oppose Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) in the Alabama Senate GOP primary and invested more than $6 million in the super PAC Show Me Values to stop Eric Greitens from winning the Senate GOP nomination in Missouri.
“Our ability to control primary outcomes was quite limited in ’22 because the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries, so my view was do the best with the cards you’re dealt,” he said of the Senate GOP strategy of coalescing behind weak candidates who had Trump’s support, such as Herschel Walker, who lost last week to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
“Hopefully in the next cycle, we’ll have quality candidates everywhere and a better outcome,” he said.
McConnell said that some Republicans had forgotten the lessons of the 2010 and 2012 elections, when the GOP fumbled good opportunities to win races in Delaware, Indiana and Missouri because extreme or controversial Republican candidates won those years’ primaries.
“I do think we had the opportunity to relearn one more time you have to have quality candidates to win competitive senate races,” he said. “We went through this in 2010, 2012.”
The GOP leader cited Christine O’Donnell, who lost to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) in 2010; Sharron Angle, who lost to the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010; former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who lost to former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2012; and Richard Mourdock, who lost to former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in 2012.
McConnell said Republicans “unfortunately revisited that situation in 2022.”
Updated at 3:42 p.m.