After N.Y. loss, Republicans play the blame game

Former President Donald Trump appears during a court hearing at Manhattan criminal court on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. A New York judge says Trump’s hush-money trial will go ahead as scheduled with jury selection starting on March 25.
Former President Donald Trump appears during a court hearing at Manhattan criminal court on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. A New York judge says Trump’s hush-money trial will go ahead as scheduled with jury selection starting on March 25. | Brendan McDermid, Associated Press
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An earlier version of this article was published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email

Good morning, friends. Welcome to On the Trail 2024. Only 262 days until Election Day — but who’s counting?

3 things to know

  1. Donald Trump was ordered to pay over $350 million Friday for business fraud, the biggest legal penalty yet. Trump was found liable of falsely inflating his net worth to obtain favorable rates from lenders, among other infractions. Read more here.

  2. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox thinks nominating Trump is “a huge mistake” for Republicans. Cox — the current chair of the National Governors Association — said he “would love to see” Nikki Haley as the nominee, though he went short of endorsing her. More here.

  3. Democrats have assembled a 2024 war chest, while Republicans are running on fumes. That’s according to the year-end financial reports from the FEC, which show the DNC has more cash on hand heading into an election year than any year in history. Meanwhile, the RNC has its smallest fundraising haul in a decade. More here.

The Big Idea

For Republicans, a bad omen?

On Tuesday night, Democrat Tom Suozzi won a special election to replace ousted Rep. George Santos in New York’s District 3. It was a big win for Democrats, who reduced the narrow Republican House majority ahead of the 2024 election. And it was a bad loss for Republicans, and the blame lies at the feet of ... everyone?

Republicans can’t decide who’s at fault for losing the Republican-friendly district. The leading candidates:

  • Donald Trump: the former president has led the GOP to a series of electoral losses since becoming the party’s standard bearer — the 2018 midterms, the 2020 election, the 2022 midterms. “Let’s just say the quiet part out loud. Donald Trump continues to be a huge weight against Republican candidates,” Nikki Haley’s campaign spokesperson, Olivia Perez-Cubas, said in a statement.

  • The Republican message: Abortion was the centerpiece of the 2022 midterms, and it killed Republicans. Suozzi made the special election race about other issues, like immigration, and won.

  • Dysfunction in Congress: If immigration comes up, so too does Senate Republicans’ work in sinking a bipartisan deal on border security. “The issue agenda is on (Republicans’) side,” longtime GOP pollster Frank Lutz said. “Their congressional behavior is not.”

  • Traitors in Congress: There’s a grand total of one person who would point the finger back to those who ousted Santos — and it’s George Santos himself, who put his congressional colleagues in a group chat Tuesday night and ripped them for their “hate filled campaign” to kick him out of his seat. A reminder: Santos was ousted for using campaign funds for his personal benefit.

The bigger question than who to blame is what does this mean for Republicans come November. New York’s 3rd District — the wealthiest district in the state, covering northwest Long Island — has historically been favorable to Republicans. In the 2022 midterms, when Republicans underperformed across the country, Santos won the district by seven points.

Some argue that the victory gives Democrats a clear playbook for November. Suozzi made the race about immigration, taking a harder line on border security and enforcement than Democrats often do. “This is the template for Democrats everywhere because you could not imagine a district that could have been more hostile to what the stereotype of a Democrat is,” Lis Smith, a national Democratic strategist and advisor to Suozzi’s campaign, told the Associated Press. “You just need to go on offense and say, ‘I’m the one who wants to secure the border. It’s the Republicans who want chaos at the border.’”

But any analysis should take the result with a grain of salt. The district is much more affluent than the country at large. Turnout was hampered by a major snowstorm. And with nine months until Election Day, it’s possible that other issues — like the economy or foreign policy — could be more important to voters.

As it is, the result speaks for itself: a victory for Democrats to narrow the Republicans’ House majority and offer momentum as the presidential race heats up.

Weekend reads

RFK Jr.’s Super Bowl ad caused a small firestorm among his family. (More on that here.) Politico highlights other family feuds in politics, including the unique dynamic between Sen. Mitt Romney and his niece, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. My personal favorite, though not mentioned in this article? Martha Hughes Cannon, who defeated her husband, Angus Cannon, in 1896 for a seat in the Utah State Senate. She became the first female state senator in U.S history. These 7 Famous Families Got Into Big Fights Over Politics (Peder Schaefer, Politico Magazine)

Autopsies on DeSantis’ failed presidential bid will continue, but this one — written from the inside by a controversial, short-tenured speechwriter — adds a unique perspective. The main takeaway? “DeSantis was selling a plan; Trump was selling a feeling.” What I Saw Inside the DeSantis Campaign (Nate Hochman, The American Conservative)

A thoughtful essay on antisemitism and the hysteria of the past four months, asking: Why are some of America’s brightest and most justice-driven people spewing Jew hatred? Why are DEI initiatives unable to combat antisemitism? How does antisemitism masquerade as justice? Well worth the read. Why the Most Educated People in America Fall for Anti-Semitic Lies (Dara Horn, The Atlantic)

See you on the trail.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.