Republicans fretted a little bit more after a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama in December. And Republicans started privately raising the alarm in March, when a Democrat won a special election for Congress deep in Trump country in Pennsylvania.
This week, Republicans' concerns have exploded into public, after a Democrat handily won a state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin.
Here's a list, roughly in chronological order, of Republicans worried about November.
After Republicans lost in Virginia state elections in November:
Corry Bliss, director of the super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, the day after to Politico: “Last night should serve as a wake-up call to the Republican Party. We better get moving — cut middle-class taxes and deliver on the agenda that we promised — or else.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) shortly after the election to CNN: “Just simply the intensity of the opposition — I think that's what was reflected in the Virginia vote. That should be a wake-up call to all of our supporters in the elections next year.”
President Trump was still optimistic though:
After Republicans lost in Alabama in December and Democrats continued to flip statehouse seats nationwide:
Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), a moderate Republican who is retiring, after the election to Politico: “In a year like this, you better not take anything for granted. I think most members know this is going to be a really tough challenge this cycle.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel at a national party meeting in February: This election “is not going to be easy”; “Democrats are energized and we need to outmatch them.”
Trump, like a number of Republicans, blamed the loss on GOP candidate Roy Moore (despite the fact that the president endorsed Moore when no one else in Washington would):
After Republicans lost Pennsylvania's special congressional election in March:
The Pennsylvania election is “a wake-up call,” Rep. Steve Stivers (Ohio), chairman of House Republicans' campaign arm, told Republicans in a closed-door meeting, Politico reported. “Prepare to bear down,” he added.
But publicly, Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) tried to stamp out panic by falsely saying that Democrat Conor Lamb ran as a Republican.
After news this week that Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic Senate nominee in Texas, raised an astronomical $6.7 million in early 2018:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who will be facing off with O'Rourke in November, to the Texas Tribune: “We are seeing, all across the country, the far left giving millions of dollars to liberal Democrats running for office, and it underscores that Republicans cannot take November for granted.”
After Republicans lost Wisconsin's Supreme Court race Tuesday:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an interview the day of the race with the Kentucky Today editorial board: “This is going to be a challenging election year. We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) shortly after the race was called for Democrats: “We are at risk of a blue wave in Wisconsin.”
As the evidence keeps piling up that Republicans could face a drubbing at all levels in November's elections, it's clear why they're starting to be more vocal about their fears. Whereas a few months ago they didn't want to incite panic, now they feel as though they need to. Their voters, their donors and their organizers just haven't been stepping up to match Democrats' enthusiasm.
This strategy is most clearly playing out in Wisconsin, where Walker has been smashing the panic button for his party since it lost a long-held GOP state Senate seat in January.
Those close to Walker say he's attempting to leverage these losses to spring his party into action. His warnings go something like this: Donate, knock on doors and, most important, be as motivated as Democrats clearly are to show up and vote. If you don't, the losses we've experienced could be repeated on a greater magnitude in November. (And that could put Walker's own reelection prospects in jeopardy.)
There's also probably some expectation-lowering going on here as Republicans increasingly vocalize their concerns. Democrats have lots of reasons to feel good about their chances of winning back control of the House. A really big election for Democrats could even put them in control of the Senate, even though they are the ones on the defensive in 10 states that backed Trump.
McConnell definitely seems to be bracing his party for losses in one or both chambers, which could be catastrophic for him and his counterpart in the House. Ryan shot down rumors that he will resign before November, but it's an open question what he'd do if his party lost control of the House after November. It's very unlikely he'd remain leader of House Republicans after that. McConnell is already facing some inklings of dissension among the ranks of his party over his leadership.
But if their worst predictions do come true and Republicans have a terrible November, at the very least these Republicans can say I told you so. Way back in April 2018.