Midterms: The winners and losers

Tuesday was the most anticipated, most hyped — and likely most-watched — midterm election of modern times.

The reason was simple: It was widely seen as a referendum on President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE.

Yet the verdict is far from clear as the dust begins to settle.

Tuesday was an election night where the biggest figures on each side were not clear-cut winners or losers.

MIXED

President Trump

The bottom line: The president’s party lost its majority in the House of Representatives. 

That is a hugely significant development. It's not just a wound to political pride. It brings with it the specter of ongoing turmoil.

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Democrats will now take over House committees and, crucially, gain the ability to subpoena whomever they wish. That could spell real trouble for Trump, his administration and even his business associates.

But it could have been much, much worse.

Democrats will likely gain about 35 seats in the House, though results are not yet final. That is squarely in line with historic norms for a president’s party in his first midterms. 

In President Obama’s first midterms, in 2010, Democrats endured a disastrous night, losing 63 seats. In 1994, President Clinton saw his party lose 54 seats.

Just as importantly, Republicans exceeded expectations in the Senate, sweeping at least three Democrats out of the upper chamber. Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon Donnelly2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally MORE (N.D.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskill2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck Mellman: The triumph of partisanship The Memo: Dem hopes for 2020 grow in midterms afterglow MORE (Mo.) all lost, while fellow Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time 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 Jeb Bush to Bill Nelson: 'Stop the lawsuits' and 'don’t tarnish your years of service' MORE (Fla.) trailed his GOP rival.

The GOP suffered its only Senate loss after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenElection 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 Sinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Sinema defeats McSally in Arizona Senate race MORE (D) was projected to oust sitting Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerElection 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 Sinema invokes McCain in Senate acceptance speech Sinema defeats McSally in Arizona Senate race MORE (R) in Nevada. 

But that Democratic victory could be neutralized by results in Montana, where sitting Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCortez Masto poised to become DSCC chair Mellman: The triumph of partisanship VA under pressure to deliver Trump reforms MORE (D) had fallen slightly behind GOP challenger Matt Rosendale in the early hours of Wednesday.

Trump will undoubtedly claim the GOP’s strong Senate performance as a vindication. 

The president’s rallies in the final days of the campaign saw him make two visits each to Indiana, Missouri and Florida, three of the states where the GOP notched its best results. 

As results were still coming in, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “So far, most of the races where the president has gone in, those candidates are doing extremely well.”

The full ramifications of the loss of the House may take some time to be felt in the Oval Office. 

But for now, the president will focus on some sizable silver linings.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

O’Rourke was unquestionably the breakout liberal star of the midterm cycle. 

His bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines O'Rourke and Cruz run into each other at Texas airport Texas congresswoman-elect says she would ‘love’ to see Beto run in 2020 MORE (R-Texas) captured the imagination of liberals far beyond the Lone Star State — and garnered acres of positive media coverage. 

O’Rourke raised an astronomical sum of $38.1 million in the third quarter — a figure that had never been equaled in any Senate race.

But he still lost, in the end. 

Cruz was projected the winner at around 10:20 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday night. Early Wednesday, with 97 percent of precincts reporting, his lead was about 3 percentage points.

O’Rourke’s charisma and perceived authenticity ensure that he will retain a fervent following. And he can fairly point to the huge inroads that he made — Cruz had won by 15 points in 2012.

But a loss is still a loss. If O’Rourke has further political ambitions — and there is avid speculation that he could run for president — he will have to pursue them without any platform in elected office.

WINNERS

House Democrats

It was a strong night for Democrats in the House. The result is in line with expectations — not a blowout victory but not a squeaker either. 

At 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, The New York Times was projecting a Democratic popular vote margin of more than 7 percentage points and a 23-seat majority.

The Democrats will get back the Speakership — probably, but not definitely, for current Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi and her opponents voice confidence over Speakership battle House Dems split on how to tackle climate change Overnight Energy: House Dems at odds over how to handle climate change | Trump shows support to California over wildfires | Zinke calls fires worse than Iraq war zones MORE (D-Calif). 

They will be able to block most of the president’s domestic agenda. They can also launch impeachment proceedings against Trump if they wish — though there is notably less enthusiasm for that tactic among party leaders than among grass-roots supporters.

It’s a result that will change the whole dynamic of Capitol Hill — and expose Trump to the kind of scrutiny he has never faced before.

Senate Republicans

Realistically, the night could not have gone much better for the GOP in the Senate. With two competitive races still outstanding — in Arizona and Montana — they have netted somewhere between two and four seats.

Two would be a solid showing. Four would be at the high end of Republican expectations.

Republicans also turned back Democratic challenges adroitly in the couple of states where the opposition party held out some hope of success. 

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In addition to Cruz’s victory, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnMcConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE (R) easily defeated Democratic opponent Phil Bredesen, a former governor, in Tennessee.

It’s enough to put a wider smile on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRand Paul blocking Trump counterterrorism nominee On The Money: Trump, Senate leaders to huddle on border wall funding | Fed bank regulator walks tightrope on Dodd-Frank | Koch-backed groups blast incentives for corporations after Amazon deal Congress is going to make marijuana moves MORE’s (R-Ky.) face. Trump and McConnell spoke on the phone to congratulate each other on the night’s successes.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBudowsky: Sherrod Brown should run in 2020 Sherrod Brown: If Stacey Abrams doesn't win, Republicans 'stole it' Nearly six in ten want someone other than Trump elected president in 2020: poll MORE (D-Ohio)

Brown, an often overlooked figure, proved his political appeal once again on Tuesday.

He won reelection by more than 6 points in Ohio — a state that President Trump had carried by 9 points in 2016. Brown’s achievement was all the more notable because his party’s candidate for governor, Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayKasich to return to New Hampshire for post-midterms visit Warren? Biden? Sanders? Dems have different answers on 2020 after 2018 The Hill's Morning Report — Split decision: Dems take House, GOP retains Senate majority MORE, was comfortably defeated by Republican Mike DeWine.

Brown was part of a bigger picture where Democratic senators in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest had a much better time than many of their colleagues. 

Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Number of LGBT lawmakers in Congress hits double digits Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (Wis.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyPro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Midterms: The winners and losers Senate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority MORE Jr. (Pa.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharO'Rourke receives invite to visit Iowa from Democratic Party in Des Moines McConnell: Congress aiming for deal on sexual harassment bill this year Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader MORE (Minn.) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle Battle looms over funding for Trump's border wall MORE (Mich.) all won reelection comfortably. Trump carried all of their states, with the exception of Minnesota, in 2016.

But Brown is farther to the left than his Rust Belt colleagues, which makes his success all the more intriguing.

The ease of his victory will fuel speculation about a 2020 White House run by the Ohioan.

Conservative justices

Republican gains in the Senate make the process of confirming conservative justices significantly easier. 

It also seems clear that the controversy over the confirmation of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughVermont Democrats cancel events with Michael Avenatti his arrest for domestic violence Avenatti arrested over alleged domestic violence: police Washington politics may change, but Donald Trump will stay same MORE to the Supreme Court energized voters on the right just as much as the left.

LOSERS

‘The Blue Wave’

The idea that there was going to be a sweeping repudiation of Trump, ousting Republicans from seats in supposedly safe GOP districts, just didn’t materialize.

That’s not to minimize the importance, symbolically and substantively, of the Democrats winning control of the House.

But if anyone on the left still believed that Trump’s 2016 victory was a fluke, or that he would be easily beaten in 2020, voters discharged a warning shot on Tuesday.

Andrew Gillum

Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Florida, was heralded as an emblem of the future of the party — young, black, progressive and, apparently, electorally magnetic.

Polls showed the Tallahassee mayor as the favorite over Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Rubio defends '3 point kick' analogy: 'You think everyone who follows politics knows what a field goal is?' Dem strategist says Broward County elections official should step down amid Florida recounts MORE, a strongly pro-Trump former congressman, going into Election Day. But the Sunshine State delivered another surprise.

It was a crushing loss for Gillum and for the activists who had rallied to his cause.

Deepening the Democratic gloom, Gillum’s party colleague in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, was also behind in her race for governor, which had been dogged by allegations of malfeasance by her opponent Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in his current post as Georgia’s secretary of state.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' Over 1,600 lawyers sign letter saying Mueller probe must be protected MORE (D-N.Y.)

Scrutiny will inevitably fall on Schumer given Democrats’ disappointing night in the Senate.

His allies will argue that is unfair, given the unforgiving nature of the battleground this year for Democrats. To be sure, it is not clear what alternative strategy Democrats could have adopted that would have delivered better results.

Still, Schumer would have hoped to limit losses on Tuesday to maximize his chances of finally becoming majority leader after the 2020 elections, when the map is more favorable for his party.

That task just became much harder.

The GOP’s Trump critics

Most Republican lawmakers have bound themselves tightly to the president but some members who were fighting for reelection in competitive districts dissented.

Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis Curbelo3 ways House Dems can fight climate change when sweeping policy is off the table Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president GOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' MORE (R-Fla) and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanDefeated 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 GOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' MORE (R-Colo.) were two notable examples. Both criticized the White House, particularly for its immigration policies.

Maybe they had no choice. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority Exit polls show more women breaking with Republicans MORE carried Curbelo’s heavily Hispanic district by 16 points in 2016 and Coffman’s by 9 points.

But despite their attempts to keep their distance from the president, the two lawmakers lost anyways — heavily, in Coffman’s case.

Separately, “Never Trump” critics within the GOP have long predicted that the president will doom his party. 

Tuesday’s mixed bag of results makes him seem less like a ticking time bomb than his GOP critics believe.