Just a day before the midterm elections, President Trump said he didn’t think they’d be a referendum on his first two years on office.
“I don’t think so, but I’m willing to accept that,” he told reporters on Monday. “I think we’re doing well. I think the Senate, we’re doing very well, and I think we’re going to do very well in the House,” he predicted.
Yeah, not so much.
By 10 p.m. EDT, several major networks called the House for Democrats. At the same time, the nets said Republicans would hang onto control of the Senate. But it’s the House loss that will define the next two years of Trump’s presidency: If Democrats make Rep. Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House and install Trump haters into leadership positions, Trump faces a very unpleasant end to his first term, filled with investigations and gridlock and endless partisan sniping.
Early in the evening, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders touted Trump’s efforts during the campaign.
“As President, Donald J. Trump has headlined an unprecedented 50 rallies — 30 in the last two months alone — and he has campaigned for dozens of candidates at all levels of government. The President has energized a staggering number of Americans at packed arenas and in overflow crowds at rallies across the country,” she said.
“Under President Trump’s leadership, the Republican National Committee has raised more than a quarter billion dollars, fueling an extraordinary ground game geared toward defying midterm history and protecting the GOP’s majorities. He has made the choice clear to the American people: Tonight, we can continue down the path of American prosperity and security or we can go backwards.”
Turns out it was backward.
In the end, exit polls showed voters made Trump a major factor in their decisions. “Nearly two-thirds of those voters said Mr. Trump was a factor. One quarter of those casting a House ballot said they did so in part to support him. Four in 10 said they cast a vote to oppose him. Only one-third said he played no role in their voting,” CBS News reported.
The booming economy, which Trump was counting on to shore up his party, didn’t play as big a role as he’d hoped.
In a big change from previous midterms, just 1 in 5 voters said the economy was the most important issue in the election this year — even though Trump sought to make that the center point of his effort to push Republicans.
The Associated Press reported that nearly 40% of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, according to a national survey of more than 115,000 voters.
Opposition to Trump proved to be more a motivating factor for Democrats than support for the president a factor for Republicans. Still, Republican voters tended to be overwhelmingly supportive of the president.
More voters disapproved of Trump’s job performance than approved — a finding that is largely consistent with recent polling.
Still, Trump said that regardless of whether he thought the elections were a reflection of his time in office, “the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement.”
It’s unclear just exactly how many House seats Republicans lost on Tuesday, but at this point the outcome didn’t look as bad as that of 2010, when former president Barack Obama’s Democratic Party lost a whopping 63 House seats just after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
That year. CBS also pinned the blame squarely on Obama.
“Mr. Obama proved to be a major liability in the 2010 election,” CBS reported the day after the 2010 election. “Fifty-five percent of voters disapproved of the way the president is handling his job, including 58 percent of independents. Of those who disapproved of Obama, 86 percent voted for a Republican House candidate. Even more to the point, 37 percent of voters overall, as well as 37 percent of independents, claimed a reason for their House vote was to express opposition to Mr. Obama.”
Trump had worked hard to buck up endangered Republicans, criss-crossing the country for campaign rallies and firing out endless endorsements for candidates via Twitter.
Still, the outcome was not unexpected. Presidents almost always lose seats in midterms — often regardless of the economy. Franklin Roosevelt lost 72 House seats in 1938 and 45 in 1942. Harry Truman lost 82 seats in his two midterms and Dwight Eisenhower 66. Lyndon Johnson lost 47; Gerald Ford 48, Ronald Reagan 31; Clinton 54 in his first midterm in 1994; George W. Bush 30 in his second midterm in 2006; and Obama a total of 76 in his two midterms.
The losses for Obama were even deeper. When he took office in 2009, Democrats controlled both chambers of 27 state legislatures. When he left office, Democrats controlled just 13 states. And the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats during Obama’s time in office, the most of any president since Eisenhower, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In an unusual twist, Trump was brief in his comments after Republicans lost the House.
“Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” the president wrote on Twitter.
Always the optimist.