In the late hours of Election Day, Republicans were deeply conflicted.
They had easily maintained the Senate, warding off the kind of shock upsets that many were dreading as recently as the preceding weekend. But their mounting House losses suggested problems for the party’s brand nationally.
Here are four takeaways as Washington braces, again, for divided government:
• Republicans got smoked in the suburbs, losing a crucial segment of their traditional coalition. One Republican stronghold after another fell on Tuesday night in House districts from Virginia to Kansas, illustrating the extent of the GOP challenge in moderate, well-educated enclaves, and especially with college-educated women.
From suburban Houston to suburban Kansas City, there was evidence Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s hard-edged rhetoric and the divisive nature of his presidency alienated moderate suburbanites who had previously made distinctions between Trump and their GOP members of Congress.
• Republicans had a good story to tell on the economy. If only Trump had talked about it.
Trump spent the final weeks of the midterm campaign railing against birthright citizenship and a caravan of migrants moving north through Mexico. It electrified his base and played well in the many red states that hosted Senate races.
But for the sake of the suburbs, perhaps he should have kept the focus on the economy.
Plenty of Republican incumbents tried to make their message about jobs and what they saw as an effective tax law. But, as is often the case in the Trump era, the president dominated the national narrative and made it harder for individual House members to offer a different message.
• Trump has a lock on the base. Republicans easily held the Senate on Tuesday and looked poised to triumph in several key governors’ races as many of those contests played out across states Trump won in 2016, a reminder of Trump’s enormous strength with conservative voters.
The Senate results cement Trump’s icon status with conservative base voters, underscoring just how challenging it would be for a Republican to mount a 2020 primary challenge to him.
• But he’s keeping the GOP from expanding its tent. After the 2012 presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee authored an “autopsy” report, calling for a more inclusive approach to Latinos and young people.
Trump, with his uncompromising stand on immigration, rebuked that report when he ignored it, and won anyway. Many of the successful Republican candidates on Tuesday, running in red territory, embraced his tone on immigration.
But some Republicans worry that’s not sustainable.