This was a midterm election in which both parties took some lumps, but could also take some satisfaction. And no one is better at taking satisfaction than President Trump.
The president began crowing long before dawn, when midterm election results were still rolling in, taking to Twitter at a moment when the tally was tilting his way.
The president was entitled to a partial victory lap. In recent weeks, he had stormed the states where he could do the most for Republican candidates, several of whom were being outshone by the Democrats’ fresher faces. He rallied in these red states and brought out the reddest of votes.
Trump helped the Republicans overcome what had seemed an advantage in enthusiasm that was energizing Democrats in half-a-dozen states with marquee statewide races.
His impact was undeniable. In these specific cases, Trump could claim his intervention in the endgame was the GOP’s not-so-secret weapon and deciding factor. And the Republicans wound up doing strikingly well in those marquee statewide races.
- Republicans held onto slim leads in the governors’ races in Florida and Georgia.
- They rescued onetime rising star Sen. Ted Cruz from an untimely political demise in his Texas re-election.
- They bumped off at least three of the Democratic senators who won in Republican territory in 2012: Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
- The Trump Senate effect might wind up even greater. As of early Wednesday morning, races were too close to call for Democrats Bill Nelson in Florida and Jon Tester in Montana.
So for those who concentrate on the flashy stars and the largest states, Trump could boast of his breakthroughs.
But not all states had high-profile statewide races. In fact, the only vote that was held throughout the country was for the House of Representatives and all its 435 seats. Democrats won more than 218 of these, giving them the majority in the chamber for the first time since 2010.
That’s why you also heard a victory speech from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to return as speaker of the House with the new Democratic majority in January.
And, it should be noted, the Democrats got the majority back by winning the total national raw vote for House candidates by about 7 points, as estimated by The New York Times. That was the closest thing to a national balloting we will have between 2016 and 2020.
Those 7 points or so, translated into presidential results, would be comparable to the winning margin of George H.W. Bush, when he carried 40 states exactly 30 years ago this week.
The Democrats had to win by at least that much to take the majority, because in more than a few states, their candidates had to overcome not only their opponents, but also the district lines within which they had to run.
Those lines on congressional maps, drawn by Republican legislatures and governors after the 2010 census, have been widely acknowledged as the most efficient and effective gerrymandering in the two centuries that both parties have practiced it.
In a sense, the Senate map offered Republicans a similar kind of structural advantage: Only nine of the 35 to be filled belonged to Republicans, and you can’t lose seats that aren’t on the ballot.
Only one of those GOP-held nine was in a state Trump had lost in 2016. That state, Nevada, ousted Republican incumbent Dean Heller on Tuesday, in spite of Trump’s repeated visits and rallies.
The Democrats had to defend the other 26 Senate seats on the ballot, 10 of which were in states Trump had carried in 2016. And sure enough, at least three of those 10 fell to Trump’s party on Tuesday.
Interestingly, however, Democratic incumbents won fairly easily in the other five: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia, where Trump in 2016 won by 42 points.
On yet another scoreboard, Democrats managed to narrow the gap in governorships Tuesday, winning about half the 36 seats at stake to narrow the overall GOP advantage in the category to single digits. The Democrats flipped previously Republican governorships in Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, New Mexico and Maine.
But they missed in Florida, where Andrew Gillum conceded a race he narrowly lost, and Ohio, where first-time candidate Richard Cordray fell short against veteran Mike DeWine. In Georgia, their candidate, Stacey Abrams, pointed to missing votes and allegations of voter suppression in refusing to concede.
It is important to remember in all this that these contests were not conducted simply to fill a scorecard, but to fill some of the most important offices in our democratic system of government. And having fulfilled that function, this election is likely to fill Washington and many a state capital with rancor and wrangling for many months to come.
The House majority will be narrow, and some tension surrounds its choice of a speaker and other officers. But if the Democrats are likely to scrap with each other, they will be united in opposition to the president and his administration. They will resist Senate attempts to enact more of the president’s legislative agenda, with the possible exception of higher infrastructure spending.
They will seize every opportunity to probe, investigate and question the president’s Cabinet and White House team. Expect protracted wrestling matches over documents and testimony beginning soon after the first of the year.
One other consequence of the election may be heightened tension over the Dec. 7 deadline for passing the remaining appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
The president wants full funding of his wall on the Mexican border and threatens to withhold his signature on other appropriations until he gets it. In the lame-duck session expected to begin later this month, resolving this showdown without a government shutdown will be the first priority.
And it will also provide the first test of all that talk of comity and compromise you heard from winning candidates at their victory parties on Tuesday night.