Barletta may have personal reasons to ditch Trump. The former president endorsed his opponent in the GOP primary for governor in May. But his sentiments reflect a larger calculus after Republicans underperformed expectations across the country in November.
Having lost expensive, high-stakes races for Senate, House and Governor, there has been a flurry of finger-pointing and guesswork across the party.
In Pennsylvania, several potential candidates are reportedly considering challenging current GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas, whose term ends in 2025. And Republicans there are questioning everything from their dismissive approach to mail-in voting; whether the State party should have supported primary candidates; to, yes, Trump himself.
Even the party’s GOP leader admits things have to change.
“As a party, we will need to take a critical look at how we approach endorsements and mail-in ballots going forward and, as always, I will be seeking input from elected party leaders,” Tabas said. . “I’m not a top-down leader, and I never will be.”
Not everyone in the party is ready to declare that a course correction is imminent. David Kochel, one of Jeb Bush’s top presidential campaign strategists and a longtime Trump skeptic, said the party presented “too many people dug into their position” that Trump was still the only way to go. track for the GOP.
“You mean some kind of calculation that actually solves things?” Kochel asked. “We are not talking about rationality here. We talk about people’s feelings.
But disappointing midterm performance across the board has already sparked a wave of intraparty conflagrations. And as a post-midterm power vacuum in Michigan, New Hampshire and other swing states threatens to weaken Trump’s stranglehold on party-state apparatuses, Republican insiders are jostling for what which they believe to be an excellent remedy.
Some of the first shots were fired via a Michigan GOP memo leaked on Twitter by none other than the state’s defeated gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon. The Nov. 10 memo, written by state party chief of staff Paul Cordes, blamed the “Trump effect” for the party’s historic midterm losses. Two days later, Dixon tweeted that she was weighing one’s own offer for the party’s chairman — perhaps challenging the defeated Trump-backed attorney general’s nominee, Matthew DePerno.
Some Republicans told POLITICO the memo didn’t go far enough in critiquing and identifying party leadership, which they said ceded too much power to co-chairman Meshawn Maddock to negotiate party endorsements. Trump up and down the ballot.
“For the GOP to have a chance to [Michigan] in  the leadership needs to be completely replaced with someone who is focused on winning and who is totally dedicated to ensuring that the people who are encouraged to win the primaries are the ones who will appeal to the median general election voter,” a Republican agent familiar with the state says POLITICO. “A ton depends on the decisions that will be made on this in the weeks and months to come.”
Jeff Timmer, the former executive director of the State Party and senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, put it more bluntly. The memo, he said, “was a ‘fuck you’ to Meshawn Maddocks and MAGAS.”
In New Hampshire, it’s a similar story. GOP Chairman Steve Stepanek, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign co-chairs, is expected to face a leadership challenge after Democrats trampled the party’s congressional candidates and found themselves a few recounts away from taking of the State House.
“There’s a discontent, a restlessness among the troops,” State Rep. Norm Silber, chairman of the Belknap County Republicans who lost his re-election bid this fall, said in an interview.
And in the house of the nation’s first presidential primary, there are signs that some Republicans are trying to buy themselves space before deciding whether to recommit to Trump.
State lawmaker Al Baldasaro was the only one of Trump’s three co-chairs for New Hampshire in 2020 to attend the launch of his Mar-a-Lago campaign earlier this month. Fred Doucette, also a state representative, said he was busy with ongoing recounts, but was “patiently waiting for an update.” [Trump’s] people” about rebuilding his campaign apparatus in New Hampshire. Lou Gargiulo, the third 2020 co-chairman whose state Senate race this fall ended in a recount, said while he will “most likely” be with Trump, it’s “premature” to choose his camp. “I’d like to see the scenery first,” he says.
But, like Kochel, former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen warned recent Trump doubters not to underestimate the former president’s resilience.
“I was an original ‘never-Trumper.’ There’s a lot more ‘never-Trumpers’ out there yet,” Cullen said in an interview. “But the party apparatus is still completely taken over by Trump – your state party chairs, your county committee leaders, your rank and file members. … This is not going to evaporate overnight.
In Arizona, for its part, it’s not clear the GOP is eager to walk away from Trump even after the party saw Republicans lose the Senate and gubernatorial races.
Kelli Ward, a Trump stalwart who showed her preference for candidates refusing the election while rushing to censor both incumbents and former GOP lawmakers she considered RINOs, said she would not seek another term. His announcement follows recent calls for resignation by pro-establishment Republicans, including Karrin Taylor Robson, who was beaten by Kari Lake in the party’s gubernatorial primary.
But there is no indication that the fabric of Arizona’s GOP is changing or that a big-tent Republican will soon be at the helm. Insiders suspect someone in Ward’s image is most likely to succeed her, citing a top-down MAGA-minded party apparatus that has been built around her.
“It’s trench warfare,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican-turned-unaffiliated voter who remains a political consultant in the state. “Nothing would tell me they’re ready to give up those positions of authority and sing kumbaya, or even have legitimate conversations about what that would sound like.”
In the deep blue of Massachusetts, where voters have backed fiscally conservative but socially more moderate Republican governors for nearly 30 years, a similar dynamic is playing out. Republicans veered away from their tried-and-tested method for electoral success — nominating candidates who can appeal across party lines in a state where the majority of voters are independents — by nominating Trump-endorsed Geoff Diehl for the job of governor and a list of mostly far-right candidates at the bottom of the ballot.
After Republicans lost all of the statewide and congressional races and watched their already thin minority in the state legislature shrink even further, Jay Fleitman, the state vice president party, announced his candidacy for the presidency. Several other members of the state committee are also considering offers.
But Jim Lyons, the beleaguered two-term state party president, showed no signs of dumping Trump. Lyons, who has yet to say whether he is running for a third two-year term as state party leader, was posting on social media from the Mar-a-Lago ballroom the night of Trump’s announcement thanking the former president for the invitation.
Growing frustration with Trump has not only produced fissures in many GOP party states. That created greater uncertainty about the 2024 presidential cycle. Republicans in key battleground states said they now believe there is an opening for DeSantis and other potential Republican challengers.
David Urban, a Pennsylvania native who served as a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, said, “I think most people in Pennsylvania are open to somebody else” in 2024.
Urban said even his longtime friends in Beaver County, who are “Trump until they die,” have told him “we love DeSantis a lot,” though they haven’t called it quits on the former president yet. .
Yet the GOP civil war, if ever launched, is not expected to be resolved until 2024.
Leaving La Jolla last week, Kochel, a longtime Iowa GOP consultant, tweeted a video of sea lions at the edge of the water, their heads raised as they barked in the air. “Intra-party squabbling after weak electoral performance,” Kochel wrote.
“Everyone barks one after the other, and nobody says anything,” Kochel said in an interview, expanding on his sea lion analogy as Republicans.