Trump boasts of 'tremendous success' despite painful House defeat
Wednesday 07/November/2018 - 08:46 AM
Politico - By CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO and ANDREW RESTUCCIA
Republicans lost the House of Representatives in Tuesday night’s midterm elections — a painful blow that will subject the Trump White House to ruthless Democratic oversight in the coming months.
But to hear the president and his allies tell it، the winner of the election was President Donald Trump himself. The Trump White House seized on the GOP’s defense of the Senate and what it suggested would be limited House GOP losses to portray Democrats as falling flat amid sky-high expectations.
“Tremendous success tonight،” Trump wrote in a tweet. “Thank you to all!”
“It’s a huge moment، a huge victory for the president،” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the news that Republicans would keep the Senate. "The fact that we're not talking about a ‘shellacking’ tonight... really tells you a lot about our president and my boss،" counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House، invoking the humbling word President Barack Obama used to describe devastating Democratic losses in 2010.
The night’s results did bring good news for Trump. The president’s gut-level gamble to make himself an argument for retaining Republican control of that chamber paid off، completing his transformation from bombastic interloper to his party’s titular head، and giving the White House a major consolation prize.
Trump’s role as the upper chamber’s savior، as he is spinning the results، will reverberate beyond his first midterms because it preserves Republicans’ ability to stock the federal courts with conservative judges.
But the GOP’s failure to hold the House was an undeniable blow، despite some Trump allies musing privately that Trump might benefit from having a newly empowered enemy to vilify. Divided government effectively quashes Trump’s hopes for an active legislative agenda in the next two years. And Democrats armed with subpoenas will likely demand everything from Trump’s tax returns to more information about his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia.
A barrage of House investigations could spark multiple new scandals that will serve as a drag on Trump’s 2020 election prospects.
“George H.W. Bush had ‘a thousand points of light.’ Trump is about to experience a thousand points of pain،” said a former White House official.
Tom Steyer، the Democratic billionaire donor and impeachment activist، wrote the more than 6 million people who subscribe to his emails casting the House takeover as a repudiation of Trump’s “inhumane، destructive policies and for a Congress that will hold him accountable.”
“With control of the House، Democrats can release Trump’s tax returns، subpoena his family members، and، yes، launch impeachment proceedings،” Steyer wrote.
White House aides showed no signs of publicly displaying the kind of introspection that past presidents — including Obama and Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — showed in the aftermath of midterm losses.
But in a sign that the talk of victory and success had more than a dose of spin to it، White House aides immediately sought to cast Democrats as obstructionists – weeks before House control is set to switch in January. They argued that Democrats will block Trump's agenda to score political points، at the expense of possible areas of bipartisan cooperation like a bill to improve the country's infrastructure. Such talk offered a preview of what promises to be a deeply tense relationship between the White House and Democrats in the House، especially amid the newly ascendant party's plans to batter Trump with oversight investigations. And as the evening wore on، it seemed to take on more of a 2020 focus for Trump، with allies tallying races in which they said he had played a decisive role — while minimizing his role in high-profile losses، despite Trump’s furious campaigning across 53 rallies، including 30 since Labor Day.
Trump placed calls late Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell، House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi، who will likely lead the Democratic House come January. Trump also called to congratulate winning GOP candidates Rick Scott، Mike DeWine، Kevin Cramer، Josh Hawley، Brian Kemp، and Ron DeSantis.
Supporters pointed to Trump’s last-minute rally in Indiana، where Republican Mike Braun knocked off Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly، flipping a key Senate seat coveted by the GOP for six years. Trump made an Oct. 14 sojourn to Kentucky، where GOP Rep. Andy Barr held off Democrat Amy McGrath. Trump also returned repeatedly to Florida to help his close GOP ally، Rep. Ron DeSantis، come from behind to beat Democrat Andrew Gillum; and to pull Gov. Rick Scott across the finish line to defeat Sen. Bill Nelson.
Some Trump victories were being pitched as losses for would-be 2020 Democratic opponents: Elizabeth Warren did several events and fundraisers for Democratic Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray، her successor as chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau، but Cordray wound up losing to Republican DeWine.
But in Kansas، another close Trump associate، Kris Kobach، finished well behind Democrat Laura Kelly. In Trump’s home state of New York، his bet on Republican Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan in the primary was all for naught، after Donovan lost to Democrat Max Rose. Trump’s travel also did not prove pivotal in West Virginia، another state he had zeroed in on، where Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin won in a state the president took by 40 points.
Allies were privately acknowledging concerns in Western states where Trump sunk considerable political capital، namely the Senate race in Arizona between Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
Perhaps worse for Trump were the places where House candidates faltered – especially in the suburbs، where his scorched-earth campaign focused on illegal immigration and demonizing Democrats overshadowed GOP hopes to tout tax cuts and the economy.
Adding to the 2020 motif of the evening was the presence at the White House of some of the president’s most trusted aides — including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski، his former deputy campaign manager David Bossie and his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale — watching the returns by his side. Trump mingled with dozens of friends، businessmen and donors during a watch party in the residence. New York developer Richard LeFrak، billionaire investor Carl Icahn، oil industry executive Harold Hamm، Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman were all invited to the event، though not all could attend، according to people familiar with their schedules.
Adelson and Hamm were among the executives who attended، along with many others، the people said. Although most of Trump's guests remained out of sight from reporters، Dana White، the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league، was spotted posing for a photo behind the White House's briefing podium.
Trump joined the reception around 8 p.m. on Tuesday. But he did not give a speech to the gathered crowd. Instead، he focused on the returns flashing across the television screens. Several Cabinet secretaries، including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin، were among the attendees، according to people present.
In conversations with allies throughout the day، and later as he took in the results Trump sounded upbeat about the midterms، people familiar with the discussions said. One person who spoke with the president before polls closed said Trump was “very calm and reserved” and is in “great spirits.”
But the House slipping out of Republican control was causing early hand wringing. A former presidential aide، anticipating the bad night for Trump in the House، texting a clip from the movie “Rocky III” in which a boxer played by Mr. T is asked to predict how an upcoming fight will go down. “Prediction?” the boxer asks، rhetorically، before offering a blunt assessment: “Pain.”