Perhaps the best description of what the midterm election means in terms of 2020 is "inconclusive."
While not the "great victory" President Donald Trump declared it Wednesday, the president did pick up some wins, including expanding the GOP Senate majority and turning the purple state of Florida more clearly red.
The midterm could have been a repudiation of Trump's 2016 victory, which has been under a cloud because of allegations of Russian meddling. It wasn't. Voters backed Trump in enough races and places to serve as validation of his presidency. He fared better in a midterm election than did his recent predecessors.
And Trump may be right that the loss of a majority in the House is a blessing in disguise. If Democrats overplay their hand in trying to topple his administration and escalate the political combat in Washington, it could turn off voters. It also provides him with a foil other than the media.
As the president said of House Democrats in his post-election press conference, "Being in the majority, I'm just going to blame them."
Trump also likely headed off any challenges to his re-election from Republicans who fear he will take them down with them. The president reminded his intra-party skeptics of what happened to those Republicans who refused his "embrace" this year. Many lost.
But there are ominous signs for Trump in the election, too.
Most notably is the strengthening of the northern Blue Wall that he busted through in 2016.
Traditionally blue presidential states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota returned to their Democratic roots Tuesday. Unless the GOP can win them back, Trump's path to re-election is narrow.
"Democrats will decide their own fate in those states," says Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group, pollster for The Detroit News. "If Dems turn out the way they did Tuesday, they’ll win those states and the presidency."
In two of the states -- Michigan and Wisconsin -- Democrats flipped governorships in states that went Republican in the 2010 wave election. They did the same in five other state capitols.
That, too, works against Trump's re-election, Czuba says.
"The party that controls the governorship really does have an influence in presidential campaigns," he says. "Whoever the Democratic nominee is now has an ally in Michigan and Wisconsin. It's safe to say the Democratic nominee won’t skip coming to those states next time around," as Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
Some presidents pivot after midterm defeats. President Clinton moved to the middle and abandoned many of his progressive promises. President Obama didn't flinch after his 2010 thumping. But that election was more about policy -- the Affordable Care Act -- than personality. Voters generally still liked Obama, and he carefully crafted the health care bill so that its worst effects kicked in after his re-election.
With Trump, it's all about him.
Democrats kept their anti-Trump rage burning for the two years since his election because the president continuously dumped fuel on the fire. Women have felt particularly offended by Trump, and nearly 60 percent voted Democratic Tuesday in congressional races.
Despite his recent expressions of regret, it's hard to see Trump doing a slick enough pirouette to make those voters forget why they've been so angry.
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