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What the midterms mean for Donald Trump's brand

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Former President Trump was not on the ballot this year, but many of his preferred candidates were. Trump endorsed more than 200 people in this midterm election. Now, the vast majority won their Republican primaries, and in the general election, many ran in states or districts that were already favored for Republicans. But Trump's picks in the most competitive, high-profile races had mixed results. And the red wave that he had hoped to create has not come to be.

Here to tell us more about this is Toluse Olorunnipa. He's the White House bureau chief for The Washington Post. Welcome.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA: It's so great to be with you. Thank you.

CHANG: Great to have you. OK, so what would you say are the big wins for Trump in these midterms so far?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, it was a tough night for Trump, but he did have some bright spots. He had some candidates that he endorsed early who ended up winning. I'm thinking of J.D. Vance, the candidate in Ohio for Senate, who Trump endorsed in the primary. He was in a very tough primary, and he was able to win that primary. And he went on to win the general election. And so that was probably the biggest win for Trump. He also endorsed Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who went on to win reelection in a close race there. So there were some races where Trump-endorsed candidates did pretty well. He endorsed a number of governors and senators in places like Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio cruised to reelection. The governor there and the other statewide officials also won reelection with Trump's endorsement. So there were some races where Trump-endorsed candidates did OK.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what about some high-profile defeats on the Republican side? What stands out to you?

OLORUNNIPA: There are a number of those. And I would start with Pennsylvania. Trump endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz, the TV actor...

CHANG: Celebrity doctor.

OLORUNNIPA: ...Celebrity doctor, who is well-known across the country, but was not as popular in Pennsylvania and went down and lost that race, the general election, to Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. There are also a couple of races we're watching very closely in places like Arizona, where Trump endorsed both the Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, as well as the gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake. Those races right now have not been called. They're too close. But, you know, it seems like there's a very good chance that those Trump-endorsed far-right candidates, who modeled themselves after Donald Trump, could lose.

And there are places where Trump went against and opposed Republican candidates that he did not like, places like Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp cruised to reelection, even though Trump tried to take him out during the primary and did not offer his support during the general election. He cruised to reelection pretty easily. And, you know, we also have to talk about the Florida governor's race, where Trump did endorse Ron DeSantis, but he has been starting to negatively speak about Ron DeSantis, because there is a growing call for Ron DeSantis to challenge Trump in 2024. And DeSantis had a great night. He won overwhelmingly in Florida.

CHANG: Yeah.

OLORUNNIPA: And now there are all these calls for Trump to step aside and allow DeSantis to lead the party into 2024 because he had much better results...

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.

OLORUNNIPA: ...Than Trump did last night.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you this, Toluse. I mean, this was certainly - at least not so far - certainly not the giant red wave that Trump had asked his supporters to deliver. Do you think just acknowledging that this year was not the big, crashing red wave will have some drag on the Republican Party's agenda over the next two years?

OLORUNNIPA: Yeah, well, first, I don't even expect Trump to acknowledge that it wasn't a big red wave.

CHANG: Fair enough.

OLORUNNIPA: He'll talk about his candidates that won and ignore those who lost. Or if they lost, he will say it was not his fault - it was theirs. So there is some of that spin that we can expect. But for the party at large, I do believe that this will be a drag on the party because the party is going to have to figure out what kind of Republican Party it wants to be. Does it want to be a party of Donald Trump, who has lost in a number of these recent elections, who has lost the House, lost the Senate, lost the presidency? Or do they want to try to turn the page? And we are starting to hear more voices saying they want to turn the page. But it's...

CHANG: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: ...Very difficult to do that when you have someone who is as dominating a figure as Donald Trump.

CHANG: OK.

OLORUNNIPA: He has crushed a number of Republicans in the past, and there's no sign yet...

CHANG: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: ...That he's willing to step aside.

CHANG: That is Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Toluse Olorunnipa. Thank you very much for joining us today, Toluse.

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

Kai McNamee
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.