Donald J. Trump’s unusually early announcement of a third presidential campaign was aimed in part at clearing the Republican field for 2024, but his first three weeks as a candidate have undercut that goal, highlighting his vulnerabilities and giving considerable ammunition to those in the G.O.P. arguing to turn the page on him.
Since emerging from the November election with a string of humiliating losses to show for his pretensions to be a midterm kingmaker, Mr. Trump has entertained a leading white supremacist and a celebrity antisemite at his South Florida mansion.
He has suggested terminating the Constitution — the one that a president swears to preserve, protect and defend — in furtherance of his long-running lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
His business was just convicted on all 17 counts in a tax-fraud case in New York City.
And his handpicked candidate for the Senate in Georgia — Herschel Walker, the football star Mr. Trump employed in a brief stint as a pro football team owner in the 1980s — went down to defeat Tuesday night after a campaign that will be remembered as a string of scandals and self-inflicted wounds.
Extending his streak of self-sabotage, Mr. Trump himself spent Tuesday night entertaining yet another fringe character, posing for thumbs-up photos at his club with an adherent of the QAnon and “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories, ABC News reported.
For Mr. Trump, the losses and embarrassments are rapidly piling up, aggravating longstanding concerns among his fellow Republicans that his 2016 victory may have been an aberration — and that his persistence with a comeback attempt could sink the party’s hopes of reclaiming the White House in 2024.
“I know a lot of people in our party love the former president,” Senator Mitt Romney said on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, responding to Mr. Walker’s defeat. “But he’s, if you will, the kiss of death for somebody who wants to win a general election. And at some point, we’ve got to move on and look for new leaders that will lead us to win.”
Understand the Georgia Senate Runoff
- New Battlegrounds: Senator Raphael Warnock’s win shows how Georgia and Arizona are poised to be the next kingmakers of presidential politics, Lisa Lerer writes.
- A Rising Democratic Star: Mr. Warnock, a son of Savannah public housing who rose to become Georgia’s first Black senator, is a pastor and politician who sees voting as a form of prayer.
- Trump’s Bad Day: The loss by Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate, capped one of the worst days for former President Donald J. Trump since he announced his 2024 bid.
Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist and former top adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the last three weeks “devastating for Trump’s future viability.”
“His rushed announcement, serious legal setbacks and the defeat of his handpicked Senate candidates — which once again cost the G.O.P. control of the Senate — have raised serious concerns with his donors and supporters,” Mr. Reed said.
“Abandonment,” he added, “has begun.”
It is too soon to weigh the long-term effects on Mr. Trump’s latest candidacy of the current run of defeats and denunciations, especially given his long track record of weathering controversies.
His rise reflected, and accelerated, the ascendancy of the right wing of the Republican Party, and with a solid one-fourth or more of the G.O.P. still solidly in his corner, he remains a clear favorite in polls of potential Republican contenders. But it is not clear that Mr. Trump will be able to replicate his appeal to the much broader coalition that delivered him an unexpected victory in 2016.
It has been an inauspicious beginning for Mr. Trump, who has now led Republicans to defeat or disappointment in three straight election cycles.
Ignoring most of his advisers, Mr. Trump chose to announce his campaign a week after the midterm election, counting on a strong result for Republicans. Instead, the G.O.P. barely captured the House and failed to take the Senate, prompting many in the party to assign blame to Mr. Trump, for endorsing flawed candidates and pressuring them to embrace his lies about the 2020 election.
“If we would have taken the Senate, and the House by a good majority instead of a slim margin, then that would have paved the way for Trump to get the nomination and wrap it up quickly,” said Lori Klein Corbin, an Arizona member of the Republican National Committee. “Now, we just don’t know.”
Mr. Trump has held no campaign events since he got into the race, has yet to name people to key campaign posts and has not established a campaign headquarters. He has largely kept to Mar-a-Lago, participating remotely in just a few public events, like a rally by telephone for Mr. Walker in Georgia.
Yet Mr. Trump found time to dine on Nov. 22 with Kanye West, the rap artist whose approval Mr. Trump had repeatedly sought as president, and who had been widely denounced for a series of antisemitic comments, and with the white supremacist Nick Fuentes, a notorious racist and Holocaust denier. (And when his former ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, was among those to chastise him, Mr. Trump responded by privately complaining that Mr. Friedman had shown disloyalty.)
In a statement, Steven Cheung, a senior communications adviser to Mr. Trump, dismissed questions about the start of the campaign, calling Mr. Trump “the single, most dominant force in politics” and insisting that all was going according to plan.
“We’re focused on building out the operation and putting in place a foundation to wage an overwhelming campaign that’s never been seen before,” Mr. Cheung said. “We’re building out teams in early voting states and making sure we are positioned to win on all levels.”
Mr. Trump’s losing streak includes serious legal setbacks.
His four-year effort to block congressional Democrats from obtaining his tax returns ended in defeat at the Supreme Court, and the House Ways and Means Committee said on Nov. 30 that it had obtained access to six years of his returns. A federal appeals court on Dec. 1 shut down a lawsuit by Mr. Trump that had, for nearly three months, slowed the inquiry into whether he illegally kept national security records at Mar-a-Lago.
Then, in New York on Tuesday, a jury returned guilty verdicts against Mr. Trump’s family business on all 17 counts related to a tax-fraud scheme, detailing what prosecutors called a “culture of fraud and deception” at the company that bears his name.
Mr. Walker’s defeat Tuesday night in his runoff with Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, came as a final blow capping Mr. Trump’s miserable year as a political mastermind.
Mr. Trump had pressed Mr. Walker to run and endorsed him early on, disregarding Republicans in Washington who urged caution before anointing Mr. Walker given the allegations of domestic violence in his past. Mr. Trump was adamant that Mr. Walker would prevail, just as Mr. Trump himself had weathered his own scandals.
But while Mr. Walker kept the race surprisingly close, given the crush of headlines about the previously undisclosed children he had fathered and abortions he had reportedly urged romantic partners to get, he lost by nearly 100,000 votes — and Democrats gained an invaluable 51st seat in the Senate.
Julianne Thompson, a Republican consultant in Atlanta and former spokeswoman for the state G.O.P., said the overall midterm results in Georgia — where voters rejected Trump-endorsed candidates for Senate, governor, secretary of state and attorney general — showed that “a lot of people are questioning the direction of the party.”
“There is a big part of the Republican Party that is ready to move on,” she said.
More broadly, Mr. Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad three weeks appear to have called into question whether his seeming imperviousness to the normal rules of political gravity may have worn off at long last.
“People see what’s been happening, and will interpret that as weakness and as an opportunity to challenge President Trump,” said Michael Barnett, the Republican chairman in Palm Beach County, Fla. “I don’t think his influence has dropped that much — if at all — but he’s going to have opponents.”
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.