President Donald Trump is working very hard to push the narrative that Tuesday’s midterm elections were “a very Big Win” for Republicans, despite Democrats making notable gains in federal and statewide races across the country.
During a news conference at the White House on Wednesday, Trump claimed victory and vindication after “a big day, an incredible day” that saw his party lose control of the heavily-gerrymandered House for the first time in eight years.
Conservatives pointed to the GOP expanding its majority in the Senate, which was anticipated by many since Democrats were defending what was called one of the toughest Senate maps of the last century, to insist that the “blue wave” of opposition to Trump’s unpopular policies didn’t materialize.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity called the midterms “a massive win” for Trump and claimed Democrats’ control of the House “is meaningless.” Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal summed up the night as a “SPLIT DECISION.” Crooked Media’s Dan Pfeiffer noted the paper had a much different reaction when Republicans flipped the House under President Barack Obama, whose party also maintained control of the Senate, in 2010.
Check out how Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal covered Obama losing the House and Trump losing the House. Seems fair and balanced pic.twitter.com/clWZ1Rk2CJ
— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) November 7, 2018
This Trump-friendly framing wasn’t contained to the conservative ecosystem. CNN and the Associated Press opined that voters delivered a “split decision.” The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein tweeted about the “sting” of the midterms for Democrats.
Here’s why Tuesday was such a big loss for Trump and Republicans’ agenda.
The House of Representatives
Democratic control of the House is an earthquake event for Trump's presidency
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) November 7, 2018
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have already made it clear they intend to seek Trump’s tax returns, which the president has obscured from the public even though disclosure has been standard for all presidential candidates since Richard Nixon. The committee chair can obtain “any taxpayer’s records from the IRS for confidential review” and there is nothing the White House or Senate can do about it.
The subpoena power that accompanies control of the House also provides crucial protection for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. CNN pointed out “House Democrats will have the ability to compel production of evidence and to hold public hearings on any unresolved issue that might have fallen under Mueller’s purview, or even beyond” if Trump fires the special counsel or tries to keep its findings from the public.
The impending Democratic House majority, which will take effect on January 3, is already springing into action to defend Mueller after Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who is slated to become the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, warned that the White House will soon have to answer for its actions.
Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable. https://t.co/weykMuiCxm
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) November 7, 2018
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) vowed the Democratic majority’s leadership would be the most diverse in history.
Republicans have claimed that losing fewer House seats than in previous midterm elections somehow vindicates Trump. However, the parties in the minority did not have to overcome 2018 levels of gerrymandering in those elections; one recent report suggested Democrats might have to win the popular vote by double-digits nationwide now in order to flip the House. Votes on the West Coast are still being counted, but political scientist Dr. Sam Wang explained how the 2018 “blue wave” stacks up with other historic midterm margins.
The NYT currently projects a national popular-vote margin of D+9.2%. For comparison, the last five largest margins, considered wave elections:
By historical standards, it's a popular wave.https://t.co/IRkQLDZ2dX
— Sam Wang (@SamWangPhD) November 7, 2018
While Trump may be projecting optimism, House Republicans are reportedly not feeling the same way about Tuesday’s results.
House Republicans think last night was a bloodbath for them. https://t.co/I0L3QftQw2
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) November 7, 2018
Senate Democrats are fortunate Tuesday wasn’t worse considering they were mostly on defense in “an absolutely horrendous Senate map—arguably the worst either party has faced since direct election of senators began more than a century ago.”
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT) held on in states Trump won by huge margins in 2016. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) unseated Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada. The race between Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSally (R) to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona remains too close to call as of publishing. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) held serve in traditional Democratic strongholds that Trump unexpectedly captured in 2016. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) cruised to re-election in a state Trump only lost by 1.5 percent in 2016. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) remains the only Democrat who can win statewide elections in Ohio. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) won despite a recent corruption trial in which jurors were unable to reach a verdict. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) got closer to winning a statewide race in Texas than any Democrat has come in over 20 years, and though he didn’t unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R), his campaign paid numerous dividends down-ballot and forever changed the way his party’s chances are viewed in the second-most populous state.
There is no spinning that the makeup of the Senate presents obstacles to Democrats. Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) were wiped out in red states. The loss of Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in Florida illustrates Democrats’ problems in the Sunshine State, where they haven’t won a statewide election since Nelson in 2006.
But the Senate was always seen as an uphill battle for Democrats in 2018. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough noted, the 2020 Senate map, in which Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) will attempt to defend seats in states Trump lost in 2016, is much more favorable to Democrats.
. @JoeNBC on the Senate in 2020: "It is brutal in the Senate for Republicans. In fact, the Republicans are going to be facing as much of an uphill fight two years from now as Democrats faced last night." pic.twitter.com/Z4fSF5h1kj
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 7, 2018
Democrats flipped the governor’s mansions in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, and Maine on Tuesday. In addition, Democrats maintained control in Connecticut, Colorado, and Oregon gubernatorial races that were viewed as competitive. The 2018 gubernatorial races were particularly important because many of the winners will impact redistricting efforts in those states. The majority of the U.S. population now has a Democratic governor after Tuesday’s flips.
The defeats of Andrew Gillum (D) in Florida and Stacey Abrams (D) in Georgia certainly influenced the perception of how Democrats fared on Tuesday. However, both came very close to pulling out wins in pro-Trump areas, and like O’Rourke in Texas, their popularity pushed other Democrats in their states over the line. And perhaps most importantly, in Florida, around 1.4 million new voters were created after a Jim Crow-era felon disenfranchisement law was overturned.
Conservatives enjoy pointing out that around 1,000 state legislative seats flipped to Republicans during the eight years of Obama’s presidency. More than 350 state legislative seats have flipped to Democrats under Trump, per the Democratic State Legislative Committee.
Democrats also flipped numerous chambers across the country, as the New York Senate, Minnesota House, Colorado Senate, New Hampshire House and Senate, and Maine Senate are all now controlled by Democrats.
As The Atlantic explained, some of Democrats’ most important state legislative flips involved narrowing deficits in Republican-controlled chambers.
But the most hard-fought victories may have come in purple states where chambers didn’t flip but seats did, narrowing Republican majorities. Examples include North Carolina, where, according to the DLCC, Democrats flipped 16 seats across the state House and Senate; Texas, where 14 seats went blue; and Pennsylvania, where Democrats won a total of 19 seats that had been occupied by Republicans.
Flippable noted Tuesday’s results give Democrats complete control of the governments in New York, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Maine, and also ended Republican “trifectas,” a term for when one party holds the governor’s mansions and the majorities in the state House and senate, in numerous states.
Because of these flips, Democrats gained control of six state governments (and not just on the coast). Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, and New York are now Democratic trifectas!
Meanwhile, the GOP lost trifectas in Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.
— Flippable (@flippable_org) November 7, 2018
Trump now faces endless investigations backed up by the subpoena power of a Democratic majority in the House, and an electoral map that should look much less favorable to Republicans in 2020. As Vox’s Ezra Klein noted, Democrats’ House majority, which was achieved despite gerrymandering and economic metrics that typically favor an incumbent president’s party, is “a pure repudiation of Trump.”