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Photo: Mark Makela / Getty Images

Over the past few weeks — especially since Roy Moore's defeat — sources close to Trump say he's finally recognizing a harsh reality: If Republicans lose the House in 2018, it will pose an existential threat to his presidency, with endless investigations, legislative obstruction and a likely move toward impeachment.

"Oh, he gets it," a source who's recently spoke to Trump told me.

  • Some of Trump's trusted advisers are stressing the crisis-level stakes of the 2018 midterms. Many believe that the White House's political shop, run by Bill Stepien, has proven useless. And they say the Trump-endorsed outside support group, America First, is equally ineffectual. One top administration official described it to me as "not necessarily inept, but certainly inert."
  • Brian O. Walsh, a top official at America First, responded to the criticism by saying: "In just a few months, we've taken America First from inception to an operation that's raised over $30 million and spent more money championing the accomplishments and supporting President Trump than any other organization. In 2018, we will be even more aggressive, and are optimistic that we will get the support needed to do so."

At a recent lunch with Trump, former chief of staff Reince Priebus said 2018 is as serious as a heart attack— and that Republicans will only keep control of the House if everything goes perfectly.

  • Sources who've spoken to Priebus say he's pessimistic about next year and is concerned that the White House doesn't have a single ringleader who can galvanize Republican leaders around the country.
  • To emphasize the potential calamity, Priebus, the former RNC chair, has been telling GOP leadership that the party needs to own the entire data and ground operation for every single congressional district, and to "spend whatever needs to be spent as if 2020 relies on it."

Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said she thinks the GOP can keep the Congress in Republican hands, but that a to-be-determined liability is if more and more House Republicans retire. She noted that most presidents — including Clinton and Obama — face midterm massacres but then win re-elections.

  • "However, in the age of Trump," she added, "history tends to be made, not repeated."

Conway said she remains optimistic because she believes Democrats "have nothing positive or concrete to run on and wasted the year talking about Russia instead of America, and holding up a stop sign screaming 'resist and obstruct'."

Get more stories like this by signing up for our weekly political lookahead newsletter, Axios Sneak Peek.

Go deeper

Updated 48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.