President Trump uses his Twitter feed, as he himself asserts, to offer the Truth to the American public. It allows him to go around the filter of the media and instead offer Real Facts to Real America. The mainstream media is just Fake News; @realDonaldTrump is the inside scoop on the Trump administration.
So we get things like this.
Now, a cynic might argue that this is Trump trying to put a positive spin on an election cycle that, pretty obviously, didn’t go well for Trump and his party. But we are not cynics. We, instead, are skeptics who can also make graphs, and so we will note that not only is Trump’s presentation of history wrong, so too is his assertion that he won an “epic victory.”
It is obviously true that the midterm results were better for Trump than they have been for other sitting presidents in the past. That’s like saying that the wreck of the Costa Concordia was better than what happened to the Titanic. Well, sure! But it wasn’t good.
The Democrats gained 38 or 39 seats in the House, depending on the results of a few still-uncalled races. That, we’ll note, is almost exactly what FiveThirtyEight predicted and what we had expected to see, given how unpopular Trump is. Losing that many seats is the worst performance for Trump’s party since the first election after Richard Nixon’s resignation and the seventh-worst performance in the past century. Those results always came when a Republican was in the White House.
The Republicans have also won at least that many seats on multiple occasions — when a Democrat was president. (We added a dotted line on both the top and bottom of the graph to help make this point.) It’s true that presidents often see the opposing party gain seats in midterm elections. But 2018 was worse than normal. Democratic presidents have given up an average of 33 seats since 1926. Republican presidents have given up an average of 24. Thirty-eight, our sources tell us, is higher than 24.
Trump would like us to instead fixate on the results in the Senate, where the Republicans picked up two seats. (Well, actually, they picked up four seats, but they also lost two seats.)
What’s important about that figure, of course, is that it distills the 2018 election down not only to just the Senate, but only a subset of the Senate. After all, not all Senate seats were on the ballot this year — and those that were were overwhelmingly seats currently held by Democrats. (Why? In part because those up for reelection were elected in 2012, a good year for the Democratic Party.)
If you look just at toss-up Senate seats, the Republicans gained more seats. But of the 13 seats The Washington Post identified as vulnerable, the Democrats won seven. Of all of the seats on the ballot, the Democrats won more than two-thirds. Sure, that doesn’t matter much in control of the Senate, and, sure, these were seats that mostly featured Democratic incumbents, often in blue states. But, still. If we’re going to compare things, let’s compare things.
Overall, the Democrats won more of the House seats and more of the Senate seats that were on the ballot. Republicans gained in the Senate, but exclusively in states that Trump himself won in 2016.
Trump wants to talk about that thin slice of light red.
It is a little unusual that a party would gain ground in one chamber of Congress but not the other, but to talk about that, Trump would have to talk about how his party fared in the House, which was not great.
So instead, the Truth that Trump offers his Twitter followers is that presidents have, in the past, lost more House seats than his party lost this year. True enough! But not the whole truth, by any stretch.