Exit Interview is an IJR original series exploring the 2018 midterms by examining what didn’t work in order to better understand what did. Following Election Day, IJR will give candidates who came up short an opportunity to speak their minds after the votes are counted and the dust settles.
The day after the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump ripped a number of Republicans who lost their respective races at a fiery White House press conference.
“They did very poorly,” the president said regarding candidates who “didn’t want the embrace” of his support.
Now with the midterms in the rearview mirror, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), one of the fallen Republican candidates whom Trump called out, tells IJR that he simply “laughed” at the president’s antics, adding that it proved Trump makes “everything about him” in an effort to “exploit our losses to project his strength.”
In a candid interview with IJR, Curbelo, who lost a tight race to Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, opened up about being somewhat “relieved” to leave Congress considering how “truly dangerous” politics have grown recently.
“Too many of my colleagues here are defined by whatever Trump wants,” the congressman said. “This is very corrosive to our institutions. This is not how it’s supposed to work.”
The outgoing Republican also weighed in on the future of his party, if there’s anything he would have done differently on the campaign trail, and whether or not he plans to return to politics someday (spoiler alert: he does).
IJR: It’s been a few weeks after the election. How are you feeling about the results? Do you have any more insight into what led to the campaign outcome?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO: Look, the number one factor in my race was spending. We probably got outspent 2-to-1, and despite that, it was still pretty close. But the political pendulum swings back and forth. I don’t take the results personally at all. I’m just grateful for these wonderful four years that I’ve been able to serve my community and the country.
Is there anything you would have done differently on the campaign? Any regrets?
Oh, no. I raised north of $5 million for my campaign. And over the last couple of weeks, some friends would come up to me and say, “Hey, can we raise more money?” But we had more than what we projected we needed to raise to run a good campaign, so by that point, I was telling people, “Look, I’ve raised about $5 million, and if you can’t win with that, it’s almost not worth it, so don’t worry about it.”
So, no. I really don’t think there was much we could have done differently when you’re in the most Democratic-leaning district in the country and you’re getting outspent 2-to-1. It’s surprising it was even close.
What was your initial reaction when you saw President Donald Trump going after Republicans like yourself who came up short on Election day?
My first reaction was to laugh at him. Because it shows how detached he is from the reality of this last election.
In my district, I got a little over 49 percent. And Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, who were more closely aligned with the president without question, got in the mid-40s. So statistically, what the president said is just completely wrong. But for him, everything is personal, and everything is about him, so I think he wanted to try to exploit our losses to project his strength. But in reality, he said something that made no sense.
So you don’t think it was a mistake to not “embrace” Trump, as he said?
I’ve just always been very sober about this, whether it was Obama or Trump. When they were doing things that I agreed with, that I thought were good, I worked with them and I supported them. When I disagreed and I thought they were wrong, I opposed them and criticized them. It’s just very simple to me.
These days, I think a lot of members of Congress either don’t understand or ignore what their true role is, which is to be a co-equal independent branch of government. Too many of my colleagues here are defined by whatever Trump wants. If the economy is going well and Trump is talking about it, well, they have to find the two or three statistics that contradict what he’s saying. And then you have a lot of people in the Republican Party who aren’t willing to criticize the president at all, even when it’s obvious that he’s wrong.
This is very corrosive to our institutions. This is not how it’s supposed to work. This is not a monarchy where we have loyalists and revolutionaries. This is a democracy with co-equal branches of government.
You talked about the political pendulum swinging back this midterm election, yet many of your Republican colleagues and especially President Donald Trump refuse to acknowledge that there was a blue wave. How do you see that?
The result was typical for a midterm for the majority party who controls the White House. Whether they want to call it a wave or not, it’s kinda irrelevant. The point is that it was an — as expected, historically — a good night for the opposition party. It should surprise no one that they won most of the toss-up districts. The only reason their success was limited or didn’t make any gains in the Senate is because the structure of the Senate benefited Republicans. There’s just no questioning that.
Had the distribution been differently, Democrats would have probably taken over the Senate, too.
Following this election, are you worried about the state of the Republican Party moving forward?
No one likes to lose. And I was certainly looking forward to continuing my work here in Congress. But at the same time, I feel relieved because the politics in our country are so ugly and have disintegrated to a point that is truly dangerous.
My faith is in my colleagues in the Problem Solvers Caucus, my colleagues in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus — those who are trying to lead with honesty and with sincerity. Focusing on policy and facts. I think those are the people who can save our politics and make a U-turn here quickly because I think inertia is going to continue to pull us in the wrong direction.
Who are the specific Republicans that you will look at to lead that charge in the future?
People like Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania, who ran a great race and he’s well-equipped to carry the banner of thoughtful, rational, sober policymaking. My Florida colleague, Francis Rooney, on the environment has just become an extraordinary leader. And there are people like Kathleen Rice, Stephanie Murphy, and Darren Soto in the Democratic Party. These are just honest, sober leaders. But I think they are in the minority here. In fact, I know.
What’s next for you? Do you see a return to politics in the future?
There will be another political chapter in my life. I think that’s very likely. But for now, I am going to take a little time and just be a private citizen and enjoy that. I’ll keep my voice on the big issues I care about like immigration, the environment, cannabis reform, the debt, and others.
I have some ideas about what I am going to do next, but I’m not ready to expound on those things just yet.