Trump blowback could carry less bite in 2024 for some in GOP

FILE - David McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, speaks during a campaign stop in Lititz, Pa., on May 13, 2022. Donald Trump's attacks on McCormick contributed to his defeat in a Republican primary earlier this year for a critical U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. As he eyes another run, the former president's derision may not be such a liability. McCormick is considering a challenge to three-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Donald Trump’s attacks on fellow Republican David McCormick contributed to the former hedge fund manager’s loss in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary. Now, as McCormick considers running again for the Senate, Trump’s derision may not be such a liability. 

While McCormick, 57, has not said whether he will challenge three-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in 2024, he is signaling a campaign may be in the works, including attending recent receptions with influential GOP strategists and donors. McCormick also plans to publish a book in March — “Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America” — that could raise his profile. 

He would be running in what could be a much different political environment. 

Trump dominated the GOP primaries this year, wielding the power of his endorsement to lift his preferred candidates to the party nomination. But many of those contenders, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, lost in the general election. The latest was Herschel Walker, whose defeat in Georgia gave Democrats 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats. 

Trump is now facing blame from some Republicans for contributing to the party’s midterm shortcomings, and that could open room for McCormick and others without worrying about blowback from the former president. 

Flipping a Senate seat in one of the most competitive states won’t be easy. 

Casey, 62, has not said whether he will seek reelection. He has never won a race for Senate by fewer than 9 percentage points and, as the son of a former two-term governor and someone who has run statewide seven times, is an institution in Pennsylvania politics. 

The 2024 race in the closely contested state also could be influenced by the parties’ choice of presidential nominees that year. 

Some Republicans expect that the Senate field will be frozen until McCormick makes up his mind. He was the establishment favorite in the party’s seven-way primary in May that he lost by fewer than 1,000 votes to Oz. 

McCormick is a West Point graduate who was awarded a Bronze Star for service in the Gulf War, got a doctorate from Princeton University, became a tech entrepreneur and served at the highest levels in President George W. Bush’s administration before running the world’s largest hedge fund. 

And he’s worth nine figures. 

“With his resources, the party would be foolish to actively recruit someone to go against him,” said Vince Galko, a Republican campaign strategist based in northeastern Pennsylvania. “He checks most boxes Republicans care about.” 

Perhaps an equally big problem as Casey for McCormick — or any other Republican candidate — is the GOP’s embarrassing performance in this past election. 

Finger-pointing is following GOP defeats in the races for senator, governor and three toss-up congressional districts, and its loss of the state House majority. Oz lost by 5 percentage points to Democrat John Fetterman, while the party’s nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, lost by 15 points to Democrat Josh Shapiro. 

Party leaders now are warning that the GOP must end an aversion among its voters to voting by mail, fueled by Trump’s claims that such voting is rife with fraud. 

They also say the party must be firm about endorsing in primaries to weed out weak general election candidates and avoid bruising primaries — a prospect sure to benefit McCormick. 

And after GOP candidates once again lost vast swaths of Pennsylvania’s heavily populated suburbs, there is talk anew that the party must do a better job countering Democrats’ ideas and communicating their own to moderate voters. 

That must be fixed before 2024 if a GOP candidate is to be successful, said Sam DeMarco, a McCormick supporter and GOP chairman in heavily populated Allegheny County. 

For a party that just went through a difficult election year in Pennsylvania, it’s certainly not too early to start talking about 2024, said Keith Rothfus, a former congressman who spoke with McCormick recently. He said candidates, even ones as wealthy as McCormick, should start talking to donors now and building a network of people who will give to their campaign and support them. 

“Pennsylvania is not a purple-red state, it’s purple at best for Republicans,” Rothfus said. “A Republican can win, but you pretty much have to run a flawless campaign and you pretty much have to do everything right.”