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Some believe it's time for the GOP to rethink its message ahead of 2024

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

And as Domenico just reported, the midterms delivered crucial wins for the Democrats and surprising defeats for Republicans. Numerous far-right candidates and election deniers endorsed by former President Donald Trump lost their races, and now some Republicans believe it's time for the party to rethink its message ahead of 2024. Joining us now to talk about how the party would do that is GOP strategist Sarah Longwell. She's the co-founder and executive director of the Republican Accountability Project.

Sarah, do you view this election as a referendum on Donald Trump and Trumpism in general?

SARAH LONGWELL: Absolutely. You know, Donald Trump was the one who delivered so many of these primary candidates. He did something that no president has done before, which is to go around at all levels of government and sort of handpick people and then drag them across the finish line in their GOP primaries, with the exception of Georgia. Georgia's basically the only place that bucked that trend.

But as a result, we had people like Dr. Oz, people like Blake Masters and lots of these governors that are - that were big election deniers - because election denialism was at the heart of what Trump wanted out of the people that he endorsed. They - especially in the contested in the contested states, the swing states, they basically all went down. We're still waiting for final results for the governor's race in Arizona - but a huge, huge defeat for Donald Trump and the candidates that he endorsed.

MARTÍNEZ: And is it election denialism that is the reason for the rebuke, or maybe something else, something deeper?

LONGWELL: I think it's something - I think it's a combination of things. I think, you know, when somebody is an extremist and willing to go so far as to deny the results of the election when they're all in on Trump, a lot of times that overlaps with being an extremist on abortion, the way, say, Tudor Dixon was, again Blake Masters, Adam Laxalt. And when I - I listen to voters in focus groups every week. I talk to voters every week. And even though they were very frustrated with the economy, even though they were down on Biden, when it came to vote choice, they would just say that the Republican candidate was too extreme. Oftentimes, they would view that extremism through the lens of abortion and also, you know, their support of election denialism. So it was all - kind of all wrapped up together.

MARTÍNEZ: Then, as someone who is a GOP strategist, Sarah, how do you account for Latinos' support for Democrats falling nationally, by nine or 10 percentage points in some cases?

LONGWELL: Well, there are just some groups - and it's not just Latinos - it's often also Black men - there are just - there are some groups that are moving or trending somewhat toward Republicans. But it wasn't enough this time. I mean, Democrats need to be very sensitive to that. The Republican message on the economy really was appealing to, you know, these groups of voters, but it wasn't enough to sort of overcome the fact that independents, college-educated suburban voters in these sort of key swing states - they just broke hard away from what they saw as these extreme Republican candidates.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement tomorrow. That could be the launch of his next White House bid. I mean, how much support does he have, Sarah, among his base and party leaders, if this was what we're going to hear tomorrow?

LONGWELL: Yeah. You know, it's actually tough to figure out because right now it feels like he's at a very low point. The problem is that we've seen him at these points before, after January 6, for example, or after the "Access Hollywood" tape. And there's this - always this moment where you think, maybe the fever's breaking. Maybe he's done.

But then the problem is that, you know, he's got this very committed group of base voters that causes the whole Republican sort of apparatus to come back to him. And so it's hard to tell in this moment if Donald Trump's lackluster performance in this election is actually going to hurt him or if, actually, you know, people are still - that committed base is still there and it's going to be enough to keep him in control of the party. But it's certainly true that the reason that he is announcing - if he does announce - this early is an attempt to freeze the field and keep other candidates from running against him.

MARTÍNEZ: Yesterday, I heard one Republican strategists say that the best thing that Donald Trump can do tomorrow is to throw all of his support behind Herschel Walker for the Georgia Senate race. How likely would it be that we hear something like that from Donald Trump?

LONGWELL: Well, we have never known Donald Trump to do anything that was in anybody's interest but Donald Trump's. And so it would not surprise me in the slightest if what he was doing tomorrow was actually sucking all the oxygen out of the Georgia Senate race by announcing his own candidacy, which I think would do a lot of damage, actually, to Republicans in Georgia and ultimately could be the thing for the second cycle in a row that cost them that Georgia Senate seat.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Republican strategist Sarah Longwell. Sarah, thanks.

LONGWELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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