It’s been a bad few weeks for the Republicans hoping the party will retake the U.S. Senate in November.
FiveThirtyEight's election forecast model currently predicts Democrats are slightly favored to retain control, defying the historical trend in which the president’s party typically loses seats in midterm elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) publicly acknowledged on Thursday that the GOP has a “candidate quality” problem, a knock on first-time Republican nominees who are faltering against Democratic political veterans in key states including Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Ohio. McConnell’s remark triggered headlines such as “The Senate looks grim for GOP” and “GOP’s Senate outlook grows dimmer amid ‘candidate quality’ concerns.”
The Republican nomination in crucial Senate races went to unorthodox candidates with no political experience who were championed by the network’s prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Carlson’s backing was pivotal for billionaire fascist Peter Thiel’s henchmen J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona. And Hannity pulled former NFL star Herschel Walker into the Georgia race and was a major asset for TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. All four were lavished with Fox airtime and praise by their network patron, and they either cleared the field or won competitive GOP primaries thanks in part to that support.
But what Fox’s kingmakers look for in candidates — unhinged demagoguery for Carlson and unthinking fealty to Trump for Hannity — doesn’t necessarily appeal to swing state voters. And Fox is now floundering to respond as its hand-picked nominees imperil the GOP’s chances of taking control of the Senate.
Some network personalities are acknowledging that the party’s nominees are unusually weak — albeit, not the ones they themselves supported.
Carlson, for example, highlighted Oz’s “sad and bewildering story” on Friday. Over on-screen text reading “Dr. Oz is a nice guy but a bad candidate,” the Fox host described Oz as “a man with absolutely everything going for him — talent, decency, charm, money, name recognition, all the right endorsements — who is nevertheless losing by a big margin as a Republican in what should be a Republican wave election.”
Carlson went on to say “various smart political people” he had spoken with explained that the reason for this is that “Dr. Oz is a bad candidate,” and he noted that McConnell had suggested something similar. He went on to say, however, that “there are no bad candidates, there are just candidates who are running on the wrong things,” and urged Oz to focus his campaign on “law and order.”
Meanwhile, others at Fox are concentrating their fire on McConnell. They criticize him for being overly negative and want him to stop complaining about the quality of the candidates and instead help them win.
Hannity is the most fervent voice in that camp. On Friday, he said that McConnell’s “candidate quality” remark, which he suggested was a jab at Oz, should lead to his removal as the Senate’s GOP leader.
“Democrats are painting Republican Senate candidates in upcoming elections and midterms as cruel and out of touch,” Hannity said. “Well, apparently Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is content to leave them out to dry and fend for themselves.”
He later added, “You don’t hear [Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)] complaining about candidate quality in Pennsylvania. How about you get out there, Mitch, and fight for your team?”
Later in the segment, The Five co-host Jeanine Pirro slammed McConnell for “taking a swipe” at the GOP’s candidates, which she said indicated he was “rolling over” and “basically giving up … when he should be the one who should be out there and making sure that Republicans are out there voting.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade also lashed out at the GOP leader.
“If Mitch McConnell wants to be majority leader, he’s got to pick it up a little, show a little more positivity,” he said of McConnell’s comments on Friday. “Whatever you think of [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy, he’s always talking positive. You want to lift people up. It sounds a little like he's so much into, ‘These are Trump candidates, not my candidates,’ as opposed to close ranks and win.”
And on Monday, Laura Ingraham devoted her opening monologue to the “Senate Psych-Out,” which she described as an effort by the media to reduce conservative turnout by stressing unfavorable polls for the GOP’s candidates. She claimed that McConnell’s remark played into that conspiracy.
“Leave it to the GOP establishment to shoot inside the tent just in time for the midterms,” Ingraham said, going on to describe the “candidate quality” comment as “McConnell’s way, I guess, of saying, ‘I told you so.’”
“We do not need the Senate majority leader playing the role of a political pundit,” she added. “We have plenty of those.”
In McConnell’s defense, he did tell them so, but his party’s voters listened instead to the “political pundits” in Fox prime time.