The Memo

The Memo: Midterm election will render verdict on Trump

President Trump is facing a moment of truth.

Tuesday's midterm elections will provide the first concrete evidence of whether the voters that propelled him to his shock election win in 2016 are standing by him or whether the electorate is beginning to weary of the Trump show after two controversy-filled years.

In the waning hours of the campaign, Trump has seemed to try to thread a needle, presenting the election as a referendum on him - unless he doesn't like the outcome.

In a teleconference with supporters Monday, Trump said, "I've seen all of the newspapers, many of them saying it's a referendum on what we've done. So, I don't know about that. I can tell you, though, that's the way they are going to play it."

His comments, first reported by BuzzFeed News, also included the assertion that "even though I'm not on the ballot, in a certain way I am on the ballot."

Trump loyalists have for months insisted that the greatest chance of Republican success lies in presenting the election as a judgment on him. His former chief strategist Stephen Bannon has referred to it numerous times as "Trump's first reelect."

This strategy is built on the assumption that the energy on the left, and among anti-Trump voters generally, will be sky-high no matter what the president does. That being so, his presence on the campaign trail at least gives him the chance to make his case and gin up his own base.

By Monday evening, Trump will have held 11 rallies in the campaign's final six days.

"It makes perfect sense for President Trump to be as engaged as he has. It was the only strategy that could have worked," Andrew Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House official, told The Hill last week. "The other option would be for him to sit on the sidelines and allow the other side to tear him and the entire party down."

But the dangers for Trump are stark: What if he succeeds in firing up his own base only to find that his #MAGA fans are overwhelmed by Democratic enthusiasm all the same?

Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser and national spokeswoman for progressive group MoveOn, said that if Democrats have a good night, "it means the country wants to put a check on a runaway administration and see a Congress that will pass policies that will uplift all Americans, not just the rich and well-connected."

Jean-Pierre added: "It means they reject Trump's campaign of fear and division."

Right now, the odds favor a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, even as Republicans are favored to retain their Senate majority.

On Monday afternoon, data and prediction site FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats an 87.6 percent chance of winning a House majority but only a 19 percent chance of taking the Senate.

Plenty of people in Trump's circle roll their eyes at data projections and at opinion polls more generally. They recall how small a chance the prognosticators gave Trump of prevailing over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 and, specifically, the significant inaccuracies among state-level opinion polls.

Trump has also been playing down the importance of the House in recent days. Aides note that it is customary for any president's party to lose seats in the lower chamber in his first midterm elections.

To many people on both sides of the aisle, that seems to presage a scenario in which Trump can claim credit for the GOP holding the Senate while avoiding responsibility for losses in the lower chamber.

There are also tensions, only just beneath the surface, between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Trump loyalists lament the number of Republican lawmakers who are retiring, robbing the party of the traditional advantages of incumbency. On Capitol Hill, especially among lawmakers fighting for reelection in competitive districts, there is frustration that the president's rhetoric has at times distracted from the robust economy.

"There is an even chance, if the Democrats take the House back, that there is a split between the House Republican leadership and the White House," said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. "There really hasn't been a split in the past, but I think both sides are going to blame each other - which I don't think is all that productive, but is probably inevitable."

The other big question is how Trump himself would deal with the loss of the House. A Democratic majority would seem almost certain to stymie his legislative agenda, in part because there is no political incentive for Democrats to work with him on hot-button issues such as immigration.

Additionally, a House majority would give Democrats subpoena power - something that would likely spell trouble, and political embarrassment, for the president and people close to him.

"It's going to be a big problem for the president," said Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who worked as a senior adviser on Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign. "He doesn't strike me as a guy who gets along well with his playmates. He is going to be tested when there are people who can confront him when he tries to exceed his powers."

That assumes, of course, that Trump will not pull another surprise.

If the GOP were to hold on to the House by even the slimmest of margins, it would be seen as a huge victory and vindication for the president.

Democratic gains that fall short of the 23 seats they need to take the House majority would leave the opposition party shell-shocked - and would almost certainly cause a leadership shake-up.

The odds lean against that outcome. But Trump has beaten the odds before. He will be newly empowered if he does so one more time on Tuesday.

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

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