Raphael Warnock’s victory in a Georgia runoff race to retain his Senate seat made something clear: Donald Trump understands the Republican electorate better than anyone, but he is actually bad at politics. That’s critical, because while Republicans have made clear that they’ll support a politician who fomented a violent attack on their workplace, the one thing they won’t accept is a loser.

Well before Georgia’s Republican primary, Trump designated former NFL star Herschel Walker as his preferred candidate to challenge Warnock, which gave Walker an easy path to the nomination. Despite the ease with which he was able to dispatch his Republican opponents, however, the first-time candidate repeatedly stumbled and embarrassed himself from the very beginning with obvious lies and ludicrous statements, including a prolonged disquisition on why he wished he were a werewolf. He also faced highly credible allegations of domestic violence, corrupt business dealings, and having paid for multiple women’s abortions.

During the Nov. 8 general election, Walker stood alone among statewide Georgia Republican candidates in his poor showing, especially since several of them had run afoul of Trump during his failed attempts to illegally remain in office after losing the 2020 presidential election.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who Trump utterly failed to unseat from his post in the June Republican primary, cleaned up in the general election, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams by over 7.5 percentage points. Burt Jones won the lieutenant governor’s race by nearly 5%. Incumbent Attorney General Chris Carr was re-elected by over 5%.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who earned Trump’s eternal enmity for refusing to “find” additional imaginary votes in 2020, notched the biggest statewide victory, handily defeating his Democratic opponent by over 9%.

By contrast, Walker came in second with 48.5% of the vote behind Warnock’s 49.4%. Despite no longer having a Libertarian candidate in the race on Tuesday, according to the initial state tally, Walker’s vote share increased only slightly, to 48.65%.

Walker’s failure in Georgia was the last one of 2022 for Republicans, despite their months of promises of a “red wave” against President Joe Biden’s policies. Instead of getting utterly wiped out, Democrats increased their number of seats in the Senate by one and held off Republican gains in the House of Representatives, even though Democrats did narrowly manage to lose control.

Senate Democrats’ stellar showing was the first time since 1934 that every Democratic incumbent in the chamber managed to win re-election, Sen. Maj. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted in a jubilant Wednesday news conference.

Trump’s endorsements and political style certainly played a role in these results. In Arizona, Blake Masters, the robotic and fascistic venture capitalist the disgraced former president had endorsed for Senate, lost his bid by nearly 5 percent. Don Bolduc, a far-right Christian supremacist, went down big-time in New Hampshire, losing to incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan by over 9%.

Except for Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, an incumbent, Trump’s preferred Senate candidates lost in every swing state that Biden had won in 2020. The former president’s record is even worse when considering other statewide races in which he endorsed, NBC’s Allan Smith noted. Across swing-state contests for governor, senator, and secretary of state, Trump saw only two victories and 14 losses.

“Every Republican in this country ought to hold Donald Trump accountable for this,” Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s current Republican lieutenant governor, said in a Tuesday interview with CNN after Warnock had been projected the winner by multiple news organizations. “The only way to explain this is candidate quality.”

There’s no question that Trump’s poor choices in candidates was a major factor in Republicans’ poor showing in 2022. That’s also true about his impact on races in 2018 and 2020. But backing bad candidates isn’t the only thing that Trump is forcing Republicans to do. His refusal to get behind early and mail-in voting has also harmed his party. Instead of giving Trump fans weeks to drop off their ballots or show up to vote on a weekend, his deranged conspiracies about only voting in person on Election Day have unquestionably shrunk the Republican electorate in a number of states.

Originally created as a strategy to justify his false claim of victory in 2020 before all the ballots had been counted, Trump’s lie-filled warnings against anything other than Election Day voting have been a constant refrain since then.

In his Nov. 15 announcement of his third presidential campaign, Trump vowed to enact nationwide requirements to vote in-person only on Election Day.

“To eliminate cheating, I will immediately demand voter ID, same-day voting and only paper ballots,” he promised, even though elections are exclusively administered by states under the U.S. Constitution.

The ex-president attacked mail-in voting as recently as Nov. 29 in an all-caps post on his struggling “Truth Social” website, in which he falsely claimed that, “YOU CAN NEVER HAVE FAIR & FREE ELECTIONS WITH MAIL-IN BALLOTS – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. WON’T AND CAN’T HAPPEN!!!”

While they have not openly defied Trump’s conspiracy theories about voting by mail or early in person, some Republican officials ignored his advice in the daily conduct of party affairs leading up to the 2022 mid-terms.

In Florida, one of the few states where Republicans did well this cycle, mailed and early ballots were a big part of the picture. According to official state records, 1.2 million registered Democrats voted by mail, just barely more than the 1 million registered Republicans who did the same. The right-wing party also saw its candidates do well in California and New York, two other states where local Republicans never pushed an Election Day-only voting strategy.

By contrast, in Pennsylvania, Republican voters this year overwhelmingly followed the lead of state-level Republicans and rejected mailed ballots, after previously using them at a comparable rate to Democrats. It undoubtedly had an effect on the results. Doug Mastriano, a Christian supremacist gubernatorial candidate who promised to outlaw mail-in voting, lost by nearly 15%. Mehmet Oz, a television flim-flam salesman, lost by nearly 5%.

Democrats in the Keystone State triumphed up and down the ballot to such a degree that Republicans are now openly reversing their Trumpified warnings against mailed ballots and early voting.

“Republicans focus on Election Day turnout and Democrats started a month ahead of time,” former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), said to Politico. “If we want to win, if Republicans want to win, they got to get better.”

California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson boosted mail-in voting in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

“I have voted by mail in California for years,” she said. “And each time, my ballot was received and counted. It’s easy, it’s convenient and it works for me.”

But with the party’s losses piling up, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel flat-out endorsed both early and mail-in voting in a Tuesday interview with the right-wing Fox cable channel.

“What we do need is our voters need to vote early,” McDaniel pleaded. “I have said this over and over again. There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early.’ And we have to stop that.”

In a separate statement about the interview to NBC News, RNC spokesperson Nathan Brand doubled down, even as he referenced Trump.

“The discussion was about Democrats having a month to bank votes while Republicans expect to get it done in one day,” Brand said. “We were not talking about the former president, who has encouraged his base to vote early and has himself voted by mail.”

Both remarks were stunning reversals in the face of Trump’s vociferous pronouncements and a signal that the professional Republican class has begun to realize that while the ex-president still is able to command the loyalty of most Republican voters, he doesn’t understand how to win elections.

The former one-term president has not yet responded to McDaniel’s remark. It wouldn’t even matter if he did. Republican leaders have already decided to openly flout Trump on mailed ballots and early voting, a strong signal that they are brushing aside a conspiracy theory that neither they, nor Trump, ever believed.

Charlie Kirk, a Christian nationalist activist who leads the billionaire-backed student outreach group Turning Point USA, illustrated right-wing elites’ dilemma perfectly in a prolonged rant in which he endorsed believing in voter fraud conspiracy theories, unless they encouraged his followers not to vote.

“The MAGA movement is committing suicide before our eyes,” he warned on a Wednesday episode of his podcast in which he warned viewers not to let their Trump-inspired distrust of elections turn into the “immoral action” of not voting.