WASHINGTON — Days after Republicans were denied the Senate majority they fought for in the midterm elections, the Democratic campaign manager warned the GOP: If former President Donald Trump continues to be your leader, voters will continue to punish you.
“There is no question that Donald Trump is a motivating factor in turnout when it comes to Democratic voters,” Michigan Sen. Gary Peters said in an interview at the headquarters of the Democratic Senators’ Campaign Committee.
And as Trump announces a 2024 presidential bid, Peters says his dominance of the GOP will come at a price — unless Republicans reject the former president, who instigated a mob that attacked the Capitol, and his kind of politics.
“It depends on what the party is doing. If the party continues to follow the Trump model and is Trumpian and doesn’t go back to its more conservative roots of the traditional Republican Party, I will say that will definitely be a problem,” he said.
Peters entered the 2022 cycle with a daunting task: preserving the slimmest possible majority in a normally wasted year for a party that controls the White House and Congress, a task this year by a president underwater in his approval Even more discouraging was rating and widespread economic pains across the country.
Democrats defied gravity, winning 50 Senate seats and losing no incumbent. They can make it to No. 51 in the Georgia runoff on Dec. 6 if Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock again lands ahead of Republican rival Herschel Walker, as he did in the general election. The GOP’s failure to retake the Senate has prompted allegations and a dispute over whether Trump was to blame for their underperformance.
“This is historic,” said Peters. “For the party in power in the White House and given where we are with inflation and other factors, it’s really historic not to lose a seat now – I think we’ll win a seat.”
Peters insists he never bought into the GOP swagger of a red wave. He ignored forecasts that the midterms’ bases would swamp Democratic senators in states like Nevada, Arizona and New Hampshire. “Our numbers have actually been pretty consistent,” he said. “We knew that we were in a difficult environment.”
Aside from Trump, Peters said abortion is a motivating factor for suburban voters and credited the party’s “unprecedented” early investments in ground operations for victory, adding that “the attacks on democracy” by “the people of voting denial” had an impact . “That interests people in this country. It was particularly evident in the suburbs,” said Peters.
There are difficult lessons for Democrats, too. Peters acknowledged his party has a problem in rural areas – which have drifted even further away from his party in the 2022 cycle – and needs to show itself with “a robust rural agenda” that matters to constituents there.
Peters was the opposite of Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., his counterpart who is running the Republican campaign. While Scott began the cycle with bold predictions of a 2010-style “red wave,” the soft-spoken Michigan Democrat stayed out of the spotlight. While Scott broke ranks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and published a controversial agenda that became fodder for Democratic assault ads, Peters said he worked in lockstep with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer throughout the cycle.
Now Scott and McConnell are locked in an ugly public row over why their party failed to win the Senate, with their advisers publicly questioning whether the other is doing enough to help Walker in the Georgia runoff. Scott has sought to join the party’s Trump wing, while the former President has persistently attacked McConnell, blaming the minority leader for the party’s failure in 2022.
“I’m just comparing that to where we are,” Peters said, fighting off any opportunity to be happy. “We clearly agree on this race in Georgia. Chuck Schumer and I work very closely together and work closely as a team to ensure we reach 51.”
Peters said the Democratic Senators’ campaign committee has committed to spending $7 million in Georgia to help Warnock, “and we will continue to invest in different areas in Georgia going forward.” He added that part of the challenge is that , to remind voters that December 6th is Election Day, as this is counterintuitive to many.
And Trump towers over the runoff again. The former president’s early support of Walker allowed him to clear the Republican primary field, and he reiterated his support for the former soccer star in his speech announcing his 2024 presidential nomination in Florida. “Despite the result in the Senate, we must not lose hope. And we all have to work very hard for a gentleman and a great person named Herschel Walker,” said Trump, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to lose Georgia since 1992.
Warnock, seizing an opportunity to mobilize his party’s grass roots, edited this video into a campaign ad and read “Stop Donald Trump. Stop Herschel Walker” on the screen.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com