The Memo: Why Trump thinks he won the midterms

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix 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 SessionsDemocrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases Unsealed documents detail Trump and Biden efforts on reporter records 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 (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation into Russia's election meddling, only weeks before the new Congress is seated.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' 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 CruzOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken 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 DeSantisRon DeSantisPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Florida asks Supreme Court to block CDC's limits on cruise ship industry Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event MORE, a strong Trump supporter. Also in the Sunshine State, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTom Brady to Biden: '40 percent of the people still don't think we won' Rubio, Demings rake in cash as Florida Senate race heats up How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation 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 governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Colorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody MORE (R), who lost his House seat in Colorado. “Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveBlack Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections Voters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican 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.