The Memo: Why Trump thinks he won the midterms

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE believes he won the midterms. 

The claim is clearly one-sided, given the Democratic takeover of the House — but it’s not nearly as ridiculous as some of his critics appear to believe.

Plenty that happened on Tuesday gives Trump and his allies succor — and reminds Democrats that ousting the president in 2020 will be more difficult than they previously hoped.

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The wholesale repudiation of the president that the Democrats had been hoping for didn’t materialize. Trump’s control on his own party is firmer than ever. His base-first strategy worked in enough places, enough of the time. 

And the president now feels emboldened to make major personnel moves without worrying about immediate electoral consequences — as was demonstrated by the firing of Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Graham: Trump’s new AG has ‘concerns’ about criminal justice bill Kentucky shooting suspect charged with federal hate crimes MORE as attorney general on Wednesday afternoon.

Sessions’s departure — he wrote to Trump that he had submitted his resignation “at your request” — has heightened fears among Democrats that the president might act to stymie or dismantle special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russia's election meddling, only weeks before the new Congress is seated.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem lawmaker: 'There's plenty of competent females' that can be Speaker instead of Pelosi Marcia Fudge under spotlight as Pelosi Speaker fight heats up Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP MORE (D-Calif.), the probable next Speaker, wrote on Twitter, “It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation."

Are Tuesday's gains for Trump enough to outweigh the dangers to him, now that Democrats will soon gain the ability to frustrate his legislative agenda, blizzard his associates with subpoenas and perhaps launch impeachment proceedings? Perhaps not. But the gains are not negligible either.

Trump’s news conference on Tuesday was intended to underline the argument that he had vanquished his political opponents, as well as media naysayers.

When one questioner — Cordelia Lynch of Britain’s Sky News — prefaced a question with the assertion that the results were “not an absolute victory” for Trump, he cut her off to insist that “I’ll be honest: I thought it was a very-close-to-complete victory.” 

Highlighting GOP wins in Georgia and Florida, Trump recounted his own involvement on the campaign trial and said “I think we’ve done an amazing job. ... It was a great victory.”

Democrats would dispute that on the basis of their gains in the House — a tally that is not final yet, but seems likely to fall near 35 seats. 

The Democratic winning margin in the popular vote is projected by The New York Times to be about 7 points once all the votes are counted. That margin is very similar to the Republican advantage in 2010, which was seen as a huge wave election.

Still, in terms of seats, the GOP losses in the House were well within the parameters of historical norms — and offset by gains in the Senate. That’s one reason why it’s so difficult to settle on a single narrative about what happened.

The House losses for Trump’s party were less than those suffered by the two most recent Democratic presidents in their first midterms. President Obama saw his party lose 63 House seats in 2010. President Clinton suffered the loss of 54 seats in 1994. 

Expectations are always central to political perceptions and Democrats clearly had hopes of winning more resoundingly than they did on Tuesday night. Several marquee races went — or are headed — in the GOP’s favor. 

Long-shot challengers to incumbent Republican senators in Texas and Tennessee fell short, even though liberal icon Rep. Beto O’Rourke ran Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R) reasonably close in the Lone Star State.

Democrats were hit even harder by results in the Southeast, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum lost a Florida gubernatorial race he had been favored to win, against former Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisElection Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP DeSantis holds lead over Gillum after recount Florida Senate race heads to a hand recount MORE, a strong Trump supporter. Also in the Sunshine State, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonFlorida not using Broward County's recount tally because it uploaded results 2 minutes late Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP DeSantis holds lead over Gillum after recount MORE appears headed for defeat against Republican challenger Rick Scott, the current governor — though Nelson has yet to concede. 

In the adjacent state of Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has also refused to concede in her bitter fight with Secretary of State Brian Kemp — though in her case, the goal appears to be to hope that Kemp finishes under 50 percent so Abrams can force a December run-off.

Trump stressed his own efforts on the campaign trail in these and other states where Republicans prevailed, at his news conference. He said he had campaigned with 11 candidates in the final week leading up to Election Day, and that 9 had won.

Perhaps even more importantly — and more worryingly from a Democratic perspective — Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration, in particular, appears to have been effective in energizing his base. 

That will surely presage more of the same as Trump begins his 2020 reelection efforts — despite the controversy engendered this cycle by his description of a migrant caravan from Central America as an “invasion” and a TV ad that several networks, including Fox News, pulled from the air over concerns that it was racist.

In terms of Republican politics, the GOP is now wholly owned by Trump. 

Several lawmakers who had distanced themselves from him lost on Tuesday — a point he underlined in idiosyncratic style at his news conference. 

“Too bad, Mike,” he said sarcastically, in relation to Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress MORE (R), who lost his House seat in Colorado. “Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveElection Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Election Countdown: Hyde-Smith's 'public hanging' joke shakes up Mississippi runoff | New lawsuits in Florida | Trump wants Florida election official fired | Mia Love sues to stop Utah vote count | Republican MacArthur loses NJ House race Mia Love suing to stop vote count in Utah MORE showed me no love,” he added, in reference to the Utah Republican congresswoman who appears to also be on her way out, though she has not yet conceded.

For now, Trump is gleeful that the projected blue wave was significantly smaller than many Democrats hoped. He believes he saved his party.

He’s still got almost two months before a new, Democratic-led House is sworn in. And he’s pressing full steam ahead.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.