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Republican Pat Toomey blames Donald Trump for GOP’s election failures in Pennsylvania

“The more MAGA a candidate was, the more they tended to underperform even in their own states," said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who blamed Trump for a GOP "debacle" in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) speaks during a news conference with Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz in Philadelphia on Sept. 6.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) speaks during a news conference with Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz in Philadelphia on Sept. 6.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said former President Donald Trump bears significant blame for the “debacle” Tuesday that left the GOP struggling to capitalize on Democratic weakness in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and urged his party to move away from Trump’s influence.

Toomey, of Pennsylvania, predicted that the GOP’s massive failures in his home state, and shortcomings elsewhere, would diminish Trump’s standing while elevating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Last night across the country was a terrible night for Donald Trump, and an excellent night for Governor DeSantis,” Toomey said. “The more MAGA a candidate was, the more they tended to underperform even in their own states.”

In an interview with The Inquirer, Toomey blamed Trump for elevating GOP nominees who mimicked the former president, and then struggled to win despite record high inflation, low approval ratings for President Joe Biden, and worries about crime.

“I don’t think there’s a discrete moment where the party breaks with Trump in one fell swoop,” Toomey said. “I think Donald Trump’s influence gradually but steadily declines, and I think it accelerates after the debacle that he’s responsible for to some degree.”

» READ MORE: Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman helped Democrats defy GOP hopes for a red wave

Toomey praised one Trump-endorsed nominee, Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz.

But he pointed to several other Trump picks who struggled. Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker, for example, was locked in a neck-and-neck race while Gov. Brian Kemp coasted to victory, he pointed out. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine won by more than 25 percentage points, as Trump’s handpicked Senate candidate in Ohio, J.D. Vance, slogged to a victory by a little more than 6 points, forcing the GOP to expend resources in a relatively red state.

“The party needs to recognize the facts on the ground. Like I said, when the primary criteria is allegiance to Donald Trump, the outcomes weren’t very good,” said Toomey, who has been sharply critical of Trump.

» READ MORE: How Doug Mastriano’s run for Pa. governor veered far off course

In Pennsylvania, Toomey, a staunch fiscal conservative, said the entire Republican ticket was weighed down by Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate who rose to prominence as a Trump acolyte and lost Tuesday to Democrat Josh Shapiro by double digits.

“Mastriano’s loss was on an epic scale, and it is very hard for down-ballot candidates to overcome that,” Toomey said.

As Mastriano struggled, Republicans lost every major race in Pennsylvania, including the critical U.S. Senate contest and three competitive U.S. House races — and may have lost control of the state House for the first time in more than a decade.

In a comment directed at Mastriano that could in some ways apply to Trump, Toomey added, “We can’t nominate candidates who are completely unable to expand beyond a very narrow base. That’s never been a good strategy politically. It’s still not a good strategy politically.”

Toomey, who declined to seek reelection this year, supported Trump for president in 2016 and 2020, and voted for most of the former president’s policies. But he broke sharply with Trump when the former president tried to overthrow the 2020 election results, and the senator voted to convict in Trump’s second impeachment trial.

Toomey supported Oz, who lost to Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. But he kept his distance from Mastriano, who elevated Trump’s election lies and was outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

As for who might emerge as the new center of gravity for the GOP, Toomey said DeSantis looks like one early option.

» READ MORE: How John Fetterman won Pennsylvania’s Senate race

“Right now Governor DeSantis is looking like a Republican’s dream: Enormously successful governor, enormously popular, he won by 19 points in a state that we used to assume was extremely competitive,” Toomey said. “He’s got all the strengths without the baggage.”

But Trump hasn’t shown signs of going away. He has hinted he could announce another run for president in the coming days.

“I think it’s very, very possible that if he runs, he won’t end up being the nominee, but he certainly does start off as a front-runner,” Toomey said. But he argued that Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election “disqualifies him from holding any office.”