Rejecting any hint of a setback, President Donald Trump on Wednesday mocked members of his own party who were defeated in the midterm elections after distancing themselves from him and suggested that the Republicans’ loss of a House majority could turn out to be “extremely good” for him politically.
Trump dissected the elections in a combative White House news conference that stretched to nearly 90 minutes as he put a defiantly glossy sheen on the mixed midterm results and stressed his party’s victories in the Senate.
“I thought it was very close to complete victory,” Trump said, adding that he would “almost have to think about” whether he would have preferred Republicans to retain a slim majority in the House instead of their outright loss. Candidates who embraced his message “excelled,” and those who didn’t faltered, the president added, ticking off a selective list of defeated Republicans to support his point.
The president’s post-election readout showed his determination to put a positive spin on midterms that will bring an end to GOP control of Congress and open him to Democratic-led investigations in the House. And it made clear the extent to which Trump has remade his party to his own specifications, as he suggested that those who survived were indebted to him, a president who prizes loyalty above all else.
The results, Trump argued, were proof of his ability to turn out voters. But his message also appeared to alienate well-educated voters — especially women — in the suburbs. Democrats surged to their new House majority by picking up seats in more affluent and highly educated suburban districts
Between his sharp jabs at the press, Trump took credit for Republican wins in the Senate, claiming his “vigorous campaigning stopped the blue wave” that never fully materialize. He was quick to distance himself from losing GOP House members who had been critical of his heated rhetoric, citing Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, among others.
“Too bad, Mike,” Trump said of Coffman, before turning on Utah’s Mia Love, whose race remained too close to call.
“Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” Trump said.
Trump’s claim that those who backed him were successful was not without exceptions. Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, for example was defeated although he had embraced Trump, with both highlighting their desire to get more of the president’s judicial nominees confirmed, a top priority for many social conservatives.
The president also suggested that, somehow, losing a House majority could be beneficial to his agenda because Democrats will want to work with him.
“I can see it being extremely good politically,” he said.
The president’s rebuke was felt on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania who announced his retirement earlier this year, tweeted his displeasure: “To deal w harassment & filth spewed at GOP MOC’s in tough seats every day for 2 yrs, bc of POTUS; to bite ur lip more times you’d care to; to disagree & separate from POTUS on principle & civility in ur campaign; to lose bc of POTUS & have him piss on u. Angers me to my core.”
Trump, who had spent months demonizing Democrats as lawless “mobs” and telling his rally crowds that their ascendancy would tank the economy and plunge the nation into crime-ridden chaos, said Wednesday it was time for bipartisan co-operation. He claimed that Democrats — who made opposing him a centerpiece to their campaign — would, in fact, be eager to work with him on issues like infrastructure. But the olive branch he extended was studded with thorns as he declared that he would retaliate if Democrats use their control of the House to issue subpoenas to seek his tax returns and investigate his business dealings, his Cabinet’s conduct and his campaign’s ties to Russia, as expected.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said. “If that happens, then we’re going to do the same thing and government would come to a halt and we’re going to blame them.”
The White House news conference was punctuated by Trump’s escalating attacks on the media. The president repeatedly flashed his temper as he insulted several reporters by name, interrupted their questions, ordered some to sit down and deemed one inquiry about his embrace of the description “nationalist” to be “racist.”
His back-and-forth with CNN reporter Jim Acosta over Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric grew especially heated, with Trump labeling the reporter a “very rude person” and saying the outlet “should be ashamed of itself” for employing him.
Trump, as he did throughout the campaign, also blamed the media for sowing division in the country and insisted they were to blame for the scene unfolding in the East Room.
“I come in here as a nice person wanting to answer questions and I have people jumping out of their seats shouting questions at me,” he complained.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Darlene Superville and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
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