President Trump often employs the power of positive thinking when it comes to his own shortcomings, choosing to promote the wins rather than wallow or search for lessons in the losses. And so it was with his claim of a “very close to complete victory” in Tuesday’s election, even though Democrats took control of the House.
Touting his blitz of rallies, especially in the two months before the election, Trump said his vigorous campaigning “stopped the blue wave that they talked about,” resulting in a “great victory.”
“And the history really will see what a good job we did in the final couple of weeks,” he said, “in terms of getting some tremendous people over the finish line.”
In 2018, he held 44 “Make America Great Again” rallies and tweeted endorsements of 83 candidates. In all, 91 Republican candidates got some kind of nod from Trump.
But Trump’s actual success record fell well short of a “complete victory.” Overall, approximately 55 percent of the candidates he endorsed have won so far in Tuesday’s voting.
Using tweets as a stand-in for endorsements, in primaries, Trump’s chosen candidates fared remarkably well, with a record of 27-1. But in the general election, where Republican base voters weren’t the only ones deciding the outcome, Trump’s scorecard is mixed, with 50 wins, 34 losses and seven races not yet decided (as of this writing). That’s counting candidates he tweeted endorsements for or who spoke onstage at MAGA rallies with him. There were also two special House elections in 2018, which one of his candidates won and one lost.
In the closing week of campaigning, Trump turned away from the House, where many of the most competitive races ran through suburbs, focusing his attention on Senate and gubernatorial races in states where he is relatively popular.
On election night, White House political director Bill Stepien explained, “these are Trump states and his record of achievements going back to his historic 2016 victory put these races in play.”
Overall, of the Trump-endorsed 17 candidates for governor, nine won, seven lost and one has not yet been decided.
The final week of rallies does appear to have paid off, with Republicans winning governors’ races in Florida and Ohio and Senate seats in Missouri, Tennessee and Indiana. In Georgia, although the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Brian Kemp, declared victory, the race hasn’t yet been called and Democrat Stacey Abrams has not conceded.
Trump crowed about gubernatorial wins in important 2020 swing states including Ohio and Florida, but he failed to acknowledge losses for Republicans in Colorado, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester squeaked out a victory in Montana. This was a race Trump had taken a personal interest in because Tester was involved in tanking the nomination of White House doctor Ronny Jackson to become VA secretary. Trump held four rallies in the state this year but wasn’t able to push Republican Matt Rosendale over the finish line.
Trump’s record with Senate endorsements so far: nine wins, nine losses. Three races remain undecided.
Trump argues he defied history because Republicans made gains in the Senate in a midterm. But the races this year happened to be fought in overwhelmingly friendly territory for Republicans, with numerous Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won in 2016.
Among the losses in the House were a number of Republican candidates who failed to embrace the president. In their districts, Trump was toxic and they felt they had to distance themselves from him to survive. But they lost anyway. In his news conference Wednesday, Trump mocked them.
“They did very poorly. I’m not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it. Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman — too bad, Mike,” Trump said dismissively before ticking through several other candidates who had pushed back on his rhetoric or policies. “Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”
It’s not at all clear that embracing Trump would have changed their fortunes given the mood of voters in those districts. Of the eight losing candidates Trump called out on Wednesday for not holding him closely enough, Trump had endorsed three of them.
Overall, Trump’s record in House races where he endorsed candidates at rallies or on Twitter was 32 wins, 18 losses and three still undecided.
NPR Washington Desk intern Naomi Shah contributed to this story.