President Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, expressed confidence to Republican donors on Saturday that the party would overcome a Democratic “movement of hate” in November, but he acknowledged Republicans could lose races where they have nominated candidates who are not seen as “likable” enough, like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Speaking at a closed-door meeting in New York City alongside Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Mr. Mulvaney insisted that Democrats and the media were exaggerating the political threat facing Republicans this fall: “They want you to think there’s a blue wave when there’s not,” he said, according to an audio recording of his remarks that was obtained by The New York Times from a person at the meeting.
But Mr. Mulvaney, who leads both the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, conceded that Republicans had nominated poor candidates in places and might struggle to defend a huge number of open House seats where Republican incumbents decided not to run for re-election.
He pointed to the Senate races in Texas and Florida as examples where candidate quality could be decisive.
“There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, O.K.?” Mr. Mulvaney said. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”
And Mr. Mulvaney alluded to last year’s special election for Senate in Alabama and suggested that Mr. Trump remained bewildered at his party’s defeat there. The Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, prevailed in a stunning upset over the Republican, Roy Moore, a polarizing former judge who was accused of once preying on teenage girls.
“The president asks me all the time, ‘Why did Roy Moore lose?’” Mr. Mulvaney said. “That’s easy. He was a terrible candidate.”
Spokesmen for both Mr. Mulvaney and Ms. McDaniel did not immediately comment on their remarks.
Ms. McDaniel, too, noted that Republicans were facing political headwinds in some respects, though like Mr. Mulvaney she offered an upbeat prognosis over all. She said Democratic voters appeared to have more energy than Republicans at this point, but said Republicans had a formidable and well-financed voter-turnout machine to compensate.
“It does cost, right now, more money to engage our voters, to get them knowledge of the election,” Ms. McDaniel said. “They have their energy. We have our infrastructure.”
Democrats, Mr. Mulvaney argued, had so far failed to mobilize voters the way Republicans did that year. He said Democrats did not have a unifying issue for their campaigns, the way Republicans harnessed opposition to the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
“It’s hard to draw people into a movement of hate,” Mr. Mulvaney said, adding: “I don’t think I have seen, yet, people who used to be Republican or people who have never voted before or haven’t voted in a long time, showing up at these events.”
But Mr. Mulvaney nodded to the reality that House Republicans are on defense across a large stretch of the political map, because of an exodus of longtime lawmakers from the chamber.
“I don’t know how many seats we’ve got this year, but there’s got to be, how many?” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Twenty? Thirty? Forty?”