Tuesday was the most anticipated, most hyped — and likely most-watched — midterm election of modern times.
The reason was simple: It was widely seen as a referendum on President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.
Yet the verdict is far from clear as the dust begins to settle.
Tuesday was an election night where the biggest figures on each side were not clear-cut winners or losers.
The bottom line: The president’s party lost its majority in the House of Representatives.
That is a hugely significant development. It’s not just a wound to political pride. It brings with it the specter of ongoing turmoil.
Democrats will now take over House committees and, crucially, gain the ability to subpoena whomever they wish. That could spell real trouble for Trump, his administration and even his business associates.
But it could have been much, much worse.
Democrats will likely gain about 35 seats in the House, though results are not yet final. That is squarely in line with historic norms for a president’s party in his first midterms.
In President Obama’s first midterms, in 2010, Democrats endured a disastrous night, losing 63 seats. In 1994, President Clinton saw his party lose 54 seats.
Just as importantly, Republicans exceeded expectations in the Senate, sweeping at least three Democrats out of the upper chamber. Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties Senate faces protracted floor fight over judges amid pandemic safety concerns Amash on eyeing presidential bid: ‘Millions of Americans’ want someone other than Trump, Biden MORE (Mo.) all lost, while fellow Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world The most expensive congressional races of the last decade MORE (Fla.) trailed his GOP rival.
The GOP suffered its only Senate loss after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Mnuchin sees ‘strong likelihood’ of another relief package; Warner says some businesses ‘may not come back’ at The Hill’s Advancing America’s Economy summit The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: CDC Director Redfield responds to Navarro criticism; Mnuchin and Powell brief Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups MORE (D) was projected to oust sitting Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R) in Nevada.
But that Democratic victory could be neutralized by results in Montana, where sitting Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump’s watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D) had fallen slightly behind GOP challenger Matt Rosendale in the early hours of Wednesday.
Trump will undoubtedly claim the GOP’s strong Senate performance as a vindication.
The president’s rallies in the final days of the campaign saw him make two visits each to Indiana, Missouri and Florida, three of the states where the GOP notched its best results.
As results were still coming in, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “So far, most of the races where the president has gone in, those candidates are doing extremely well.”
The full ramifications of the loss of the House may take some time to be felt in the Oval Office.
But for now, the president will focus on some sizable silver linings.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)
O’Rourke was unquestionably the breakout liberal star of the midterm cycle.
His bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE (R-Texas) captured the imagination of liberals far beyond the Lone Star State — and garnered acres of positive media coverage.
O’Rourke raised an astronomical sum of $38.1 million in the third quarter — a figure that had never been equaled in any Senate race.
But he still lost, in the end.
Cruz was projected the winner at around 10:20 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday night. Early Wednesday, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, his lead was about 3 percentage points.
O’Rourke’s charisma and perceived authenticity ensure that he will retain a fervent following. And he can fairly point to the huge inroads that he made — Cruz had won by 15 points in 2012.
But a loss is still a loss. If O’Rourke has further political ambitions — and there is avid speculation that he could run for president — he will have to pursue them without any platform in elected office.
It was a strong night for Democrats in the House. The result is in line with expectations — not a blowout victory but not a squeaker either.
At 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, The New York Times was projecting a Democratic popular vote margin of more than 7 percentage points and a 23-seat majority.
The Democrats will get back the Speakership — probably, but not definitely, for current Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE (D-Calif).
They will be able to block most of the president’s domestic agenda. They can also launch impeachment proceedings against Trump if they wish — though there is notably less enthusiasm for that tactic among party leaders than among grass-roots supporters.
It’s a result that will change the whole dynamic of Capitol Hill — and expose Trump to the kind of scrutiny he has never faced before.
Realistically, the night could not have gone much better for the GOP in the Senate. With two competitive races still outstanding — in Arizona and Montana — they have netted somewhere between two and four seats.
Two would be a solid showing. Four would be at the high end of Republican expectations.
Republicans also turned back Democratic challenges adroitly in the couple of states where the opposition party held out some hope of success.
In addition to Cruz’s victory, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters Five things to know about Trump’s legal power under the Insurrection Act MORE (R) easily defeated Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen, a former governor, in Tennessee.
It’s enough to put a wider smile on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE’s (R-Ky.) face. Trump and McConnell spoke on the phone to congratulate each other on the night’s successes.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests Some realistic solutions for income inequality MORE (D-Ohio)
Brown, an often overlooked figure, proved his political appeal once again on Tuesday.
He won reelection by more than 6 points in Ohio — a state that President Trump had carried by 9 points in 2016. Brown’s achievement was all the more notable because his party’s candidate for governor, Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayPoll: Biden, Trump neck and neck in Ohio On The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials ‘looking at’ offering coronavirus bonds Ex-CFPB director urges agency to ‘act immediately’ to help consumers during pandemic MORE, was comfortably defeated by Republican Mike DeWine.
Brown was part of a bigger picture where Democratic senators in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest had a much better time than many of their colleagues.
Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden launches program to turn out LGBTQ vote We need a ‘9-1-1’ for mental health — we need ‘9-8-8’ Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act MORE (Wis.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick Casey21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests Overnight Health Care: Trump says US ‘terminating’ relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE Jr. (Pa.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (Minn.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary Bill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (Mich.) all won reelection comfortably. Trump carried all of their states, with the exception of Minnesota, in 2016.
But Brown is farther to the left than his Rust Belt colleagues, which makes his success all the more intriguing.
The ease of his victory will fuel speculation about a 2020 White House run by the Ohioan.
Republican gains in the Senate make the process of confirming conservative justices significantly easier.
It also seems clear that the controversy over the confirmation of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP senators urge Trump to back off Murkowski threat Judd Gregg: A government in free fall The 7 most anticipated Supreme Court decisions MORE to the Supreme Court energized voters on the right just as much as the left.
‘The Blue Wave’
The idea that there was going to be a sweeping repudiation of Trump, ousting Republicans from seats in supposedly safe GOP districts, just didn’t materialize.
That’s not to minimize the importance, symbolically and substantively, of the Democrats winning control of the House.
But if anyone on the left still believed that Trump’s 2016 victory was a fluke, or that he would be easily beaten in 2020, voters discharged a warning shot on Tuesday.
Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Florida, was heralded as an emblem of the future of the party — young, black, progressive and, apparently, electorally magnetic.
Polls showed the Tallahassee mayor as the favorite over Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisGOP tentatively decides on Jacksonville for site of convention DeSantis pushing to host Republican National Convention in Florida Florida bars and theaters to reopen starting Friday, DeSantis says MORE, a strongly pro-Trump former congressman, going into Election Day. But the Sunshine State delivered another surprise.
It was a crushing loss for Gillum and for the activists who had rallied to his cause.
Deepening the Democratic gloom, Gillum’s party colleague in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, was also behind in her race for governor, which had been dogged by allegations of malfeasance by her opponent Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in his current post as Georgia’s secretary of state.
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Schumer requests briefing with White House coronavirus task force as cases rise Schumer on Trump’s tweet about 75-year-old protester: He ‘should go back to hiding in the bunker’ MORE (D-N.Y.)
Scrutiny will inevitably fall on Schumer given Democrats’ disappointing night in the Senate.
His allies will argue that is unfair, given the unforgiving nature of the battleground this year for Democrats. To be sure, it is not clear what alternative strategy Democrats could have adopted that would have delivered better results.
Still, Schumer would have hoped to limit losses on Tuesday to maximize his chances of finally becoming majority leader after the 2020 elections, when the map is more favorable for his party.
That task just became much harder.
The GOP’s Trump critics
Most Republican lawmakers have bound themselves tightly to the president but some members who were fighting for reelection in competitive districts dissented.
Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can’t exploit the left’s climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign MORE (R-Fla) and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (R-Colo.) were two notable examples. Both criticized the White House, particularly for its immigration policies.
Maybe they had no choice. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE carried Curbelo’s heavily Hispanic district by 16 points in 2016 and Coffman’s by 9 points.
But despite their attempts to keep their distance from the president, the two lawmakers lost anyways — heavily, in Coffman’s case.
Separately, “Never Trump” critics within the GOP have long predicted that the president will doom his party.
Tuesday’s mixed bag of results makes him seem less like a ticking time bomb than his GOP critics believe.
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