ANALYSIS — After President Donald Trump boosted down-ballot Republicans in 2020, the GOP might be excited about his reported plans to avenge his loss by immediately beginning a race for the presidency in 2024. But while he delivered the White House once before and has shown a unique ability to consistently outperform the polls, his candidacy could jeopardize GOP gains in the 2022 midterm elections.
Even though the president fell short of former Vice President Joe Biden in the popular vote and in the Electoral College, Republicans are generally grateful that he kept the race close, in the right places, for the party to come within a handful of seats of a majority in the House and be in prime position to maintain their majority in the Senate. The fact that this combination of outcomes flew in the face of expectations of Democrats and most of the media is just more fuel for their partisan fire.
The results give Republicans little incentive to back away from Trump or try to steer the party in a different direction, even though he lost. But his future public profile, including another run for president, is going to make things complicated for the GOP.
According to Reuters, Trump is telling allies that he could announce a run for president in 2024 by the end of this year. That might sound good in theory, but it could dampen Republican gains two years from now.
Historically, midterm elections are difficult for the president’s party. More specifically, the president’s party has lost House seats in 19 of the last 21 midterm elections, including an average loss of 33 House seats in those 19 cycles. Republicans lost 40 seats in Trump’s first midterm election.
Midterm dynamic could change
Usually that happens when voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the country and don’t have the opportunity to voice their disapproval against the president because he’s not on the ballot. So they take out their frustration on the president’s party.
Midterms are fundamentally a referendum on the president — unless the dynamic changes.
If Trump is campaigning, tweeting and generally just being himself, he’ll interject himself into the spotlight because ultimately that’s where he’s most comfortable and because the news media has been unable to ignore him since 2012. That might excite the GOP base, but it could also remind independent voters why they voted against him and excite Democratic voters. Trump’s trail of tweets and actions could also command attention and force Republicans to answer for him, even though he’s not in office.
At a minimum, a Trump presidential candidacy would be a distraction, but it could devolve into a liability for Republicans. It could come at an inopportune time considering a strong 2020 performance has put House Republicans well within striking distance of a majority, if the midterms are anything close to normal.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.