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The midterm election was a referendum on Trump — but only where he won

From the Russia investigation to upcoming Cabinet changes, President Trump’s interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” touched on a number of topics. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)
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“I am on the ticket,” President Trump told a crowd in Southaven, Miss., in October, as he traveled from state to state to drive home a message: He may not be on the ballot, but voters should pretend that he is.

“A vote for Morrisey is a vote for me,” Trump said in West Virginia of state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who was defeated by incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin III.

Now, the results of the midterm election are clear: Voters in rural areas and deep-red states elected Trump-endorsed Senate candidates in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Texas and Tennessee — an affirmation of the president’s ability to rally his base. “I won the Senate,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

But voters in urban and suburban areas, including in several swing states that voted for Trump in 2016, recoiled from him by rejecting Republicans in the House. In the same interview Sunday with the Fox News anchor, Trump said Republicans lost because he was not the candidate.

“I wasn’t on the ballot,” he said to Wallace. Never mind that the president spent weeks telling voters that the midterm elections were about him.

‘I am on the ticket’: Trump seeks to make the election about him, even if some don’t want it to be

When confronted with the post-midterm reality, the president seems to want to have it both ways. He basks in victories — his victories. But he glosses over the losses, which were not his losses because, as he said, he was not on the ballot. (Reminder: “Pretend I’m on the ballot,” Trump said a month ago.)

The midterm election was a referendum on Trump — but only where he won.

In a testy exchange with Wallace, Trump took credit for victories in Florida: “Look at Florida. I went down to Florida. Rick Scott won, and he won by a lot,” he said of the Florida governor who narrowly ousted Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson after several tumultuous days of recounts and evidence-free claims of voter fraud.

In Georgia: “I was the one that went for Brian, and Brian won,” he said, referring to Brian Kemp, who defeated Democrat Stacy Abrams in a hard-fought and contentious gubernatorial race.

And in Ohio: “A wonderful man named DeWine is your governor of the great state of Ohio. Remember what they used to say before my election? You cannot win unless you win Ohio. I won Ohio,” he said of Mike DeWine, who defeated Democrat Richard Cordray in the gubernatorial race.

House candidates campaign on their agendas, but voters vote on Trump

But when confronted with questions about the losses — and there were many — in traditionally Republican suburbs, in red-state cities such as Houston and Oklahoma City, in three swing states, and losses among suburban women and independents, Trump refused to take the blame.

Poll after poll showed that Trump was among the top factors people thought about as they voted on Nov. 6.

The Washington Post and Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University polled voters in 69 battleground congressional districts to see what they thought, how they felt and how they voted on — and before ― Election Day. Forty-two percent of those polled said Trump is either the most important or the second most important issue on the vote, along with health care.

A Fox News exit poll found that 63 percent of more than 116,000 voters said Trump was a factor in their vote. A CNN exit poll of more than 18,000 voters found that 95 percent of Republicans said their vote for the U.S. House was to support Trump, while 94 percent of Democrats said their vote was to oppose him.

In many of the battleground congressional districts, including in areas that Trump narrowly won in 2016, candidates tried to campaign on their agenda, but the president’s shadow loomed so large that it obscured everything else. For some Republican candidates, winning meant being as Trumpian as they could possibly be and gambling on the Trump vote in a year when that vote, however enthusiastic, generated an equally enthusiastic opposition.

For some, like newly elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared in an ad helping his daughter “build the wall,” it paid off.

For others, like the Republicans in Orange County, it didn’t.

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