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Republican predictions of big victories in the Midterms did not materialize

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now going to bring in Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a frequent guest on this program, to talk more about these midterm election results. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Hey, good morning.

MARTIN: OK, big question here. Republicans had been talking big about overwhelming victories in this year's midterm election. That is not materializing. Are you surprised?

JENNINGS: I am surprised about the House. I was more bullish on the House. I'm not candidly surprised about the Senate. You know, it always felt like it was going to come down to the big three - Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada. Where do we sit today? Lost Pennsylvania, Georgia probably heading to a runoff and still counting votes in Nevada. So there's, you know, there's still a narrow path for the Republicans. But certainly in some of the other states where Republicans had gotten irrationally exuberant in October, like Washington and Colorado and others, New Hampshire, it just did not come together.

MARTIN: So let's talk about why, because President Biden's approval rating - well below 50%. And historically, the party out of power wins and wins by a lot, often. So what do you think is to account for the Republicans' underperformance?

JENNINGS: Yeah, it's really interesting. First of all, it appears to me - and again, there's lots of numbers left to crunch - that independent voters did not behave as you would expect, as you pointed out. You know, they were in a sour mood, didn't particularly like Biden, thought his policies were not helping the country, thinks the economy is off on the wrong track, pessimistic about that. And yet in many cases, they just didn't go Republican.

And a lot of GOP strategists and insiders today are saying things like, we have a Trump problem. Donald Trump put his imprint on this election by hand-picking a lot of candidates who really struggled. He struggled against Biden in 2020. His candidates struggled against Biden's party in 2022. As I look at it, that's the first thing I see is the Republican Party has problems with independent voters who are waiting to see if this party will move on from Donald Trump or will for the foreseeable future be saddled with his imprint.

MARTIN: So, I mean, that's kind of a big problem for Republicans. Donald Trump, for all intents and purposes, is still the leader of the Republican Party. If his hand-picked candidates did not do well in these elections, I mean, what does that portend for an upcoming presidential run from him? And what does it mean for Ron DeSantis?

JENNINGS: Yeah, well, that's where I was headed next, was the big bright spot for Republicans was Florida, where Ron DeSantis absolutely crushed Charlie Crist by 20 points. And you look at the coalition he put together - Latino voters all over the state, working-class voters, white-collar suburban voters, rural voters. I mean, he showed the way. And by the way, I should also say Brian Kemp in Georgia did as well, and Glenn Youngkin in Virginia did last year. So there's a future for the Republican Party where it can put together a national majority. But it's going to be done by people who don't have these limiting principles like Donald Trump and is likely to be done by people like DeSantis. So as he thinks about starting a primary against Trump, to me, he had a big springboard last night and a great argument to make to Republicans.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Scott Jennings. We appreciate your time, Scott. Thanks so much.

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