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The Memo: Why Trump thinks he won the midterms

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California 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 SessionsGraham backs bill to protect Mueller Democrats in murky legal water with Whitaker lawsuits Whitaker’s past business dealings under scrutiny 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 PelosiGraham backs bill to protect Mueller Clyburn says some critics are using race to oppose his leadership bid Congress can unite on global affairs 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 CruzIncoming Dem lawmaker from Texas says Nielsen should be replaced as DHS chief Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February Poll: Biden and Sanders lead 2020 Dem field, followed by Beto O'Rourke 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 DeSantisSchumer tells Trump to stay out of Florida recount Rick Scott fundraises off Trump claim that Dems are trying to steal election Mika Brzezinski: McSally setting ‘far better example’ than ‘GOP men who will likely win’ MORE, a strong Trump supporter. Also in the Sunshine State, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight 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 Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February Nelson seeks to push back recount deadlines in latest lawsuit 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 CoffmanOvernight 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 GOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress MORE (R), who lost his House seat in Colorado. “Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveElection Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February GOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration 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.