It didn’t take long. As soon as it became clear that Democrats would sweep Tuesday’s elections, politicians and political organizations on both sides of the aisle quickly began taking credit for the victory or distancing themselves from the losers.
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” President Donald Trump tweeted from South Korea. The centrist think tank Third Way claimed that Virginia’s election—where Democrat Ralph Northam won the governorship against Gillespie—was proof that rejecting “rigid ideology and litmus test politics” was the Democrats’ best strategy. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ more left-leaning political group Our Revolution tweeted that the election results were evidence that “our movement is growing and winning.” Over at Breitbart, the front page declared, “Republican Swamp Thing Gillespie Rejected,” only two days after Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s chairman, predicted in an interview that Gillespie would win because he had embraced Trump’s agenda.
Amid all of the finger-pointing, credit-taking and retrospective posturing, Politico Magazine sought to push past the spin and asked political operatives, activists and pollsters to tell us: Which was most true on Tuesday: Democrats won, Republicans lost, or Trump lost? Some pointed to the grassroots efforts of Democratic activists. Others focused on Trump’s unpopularity. But a few also warned against unwarranted optimism on the left.
‘Republicans need to reckon with the fact that they have elected a deeply unpopular president’
April Ponnuru is senior advisor at the Conservative Reform Network.
How did Gillespie come within less than a point of being elected to the Senate in 2014, only to lose his next statewide race by nearly 9 points just three years later? Trump, that’s how. It’s impossible to attribute this margin to a demographic shift in such a short time period. Trump’s deeply polarizing personality and actions split the state, and this election gave Virginia voters their first opportunity to repudiate the president and his party.
Forty-seven percent of Virginia voters strongly disapproved of Trump, and 95 percent of their votes went to Northam. Those who reported Trump as a factor in their vote were twice as likely to vote for Northam. Notably, college-educated white voters seem to be turning more Democratic as Trump further defines the Republican Party: Gillespie won these voters by 10 points in 2014, Trump won them by 4 points in 2016, and then this year they broke, voting for Northam by 3 points. Republicans need to reckon with the fact that they have elected a deeply unpopular president, and they have little hope of winning contested races in blue or even purple states with a divisive figure at the helm. Voters chose not to distinguish between Trump and Gillespie—and there is no reason to believe they will do otherwise in any upcoming election.
‘The real winner was Robert Mueller’
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.
The real winner of Tuesday night’s election wasn’t Northam. It was special counsel Robert Mueller. Had Gillespie won the race for governor of Virginia, Trump would have felt emboldened. Instead of issuing a sniveling tweet from South Korea distancing himself from Gillespie, the president would have anointed Gillespie as a loyal lieutenant and warned congressional Republicans that they had better prostrate themselves before him or else. As part of his victory lap, he would also have gone on to fire Mueller, daring, even taunting, his critics to do something about it.
Now all that is gone. Having cowered before Trump over the past year, congressional Republicans are likely to start heading for the hills in the hope that they can escape his enervating touch. A tax bill, tilted not toward the merely wealthy but outright plutocrats, will surely die the same death that the repeal of Obamacare recently experienced. Above all, Mueller, who is carefully building his case against the president and his confederates, will be able to finish his work unmolested. Until then, Democrats should be able to rely safely upon Trump as their best recruiting agent. In the form of Northam, after all, he may even have given them a fresh presidential contender for 2020.
‘Trump was a malevolent ghost on the ballot Gillespie lost his soul’
Sophia A. Nelson is author of E Pluribus One: Reclaiming our Founders Vision for a United America.
I live in Loudoun County, Virginia. I am a black woman. And for more than 20 years, I was an active centrist Republican at the highest levels of the party. But I became an independent in 2008, and Tuesday night’s shellacking by the Democrats in my state and around the country is not a great surprise to me. This was always going to happen to the GOP. It has been lurching further and further right for three decades. It has become more white, more male, older, angrier and much less inclusive than the GOP I joined in 1988 as a college sophomore.
Two things happened Tuesday night: First, Trump was a malevolent ghost on the ballot, particularly in Virginia, where we had record numbers of women, members of the LGBT community and women of color run for office—and win. Those women attended the Women’s March in 2016 after Hillary Clinton’s loss and got inspired; more importantly they got engaged and ran for office. This was a direct clap back at Trump’s misogynistic, regressive and offensive views and polices toward women. Second, Gillespie and Republicans in New Jersey and elsewhere had the noose of Trumpism around their necks, but did not know how to either break loose or follow the president wholeheartedly. Gillespie, a life-long centrist and sensible Republican, lost his soul in this race, trying to be two politicians at once: part Trump and part establishment. And both lost to a more focused, optimistic and inclusive Northam.
‘Democrats’ increased their power in the states to actually make policy’
Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
The Democrats won Tuesday night. Dislike of Trump drove the outstanding Democratic turnout in Virginia, but in his heart of hearts, I doubt Trump cares all that much about Gillespie or who controls this or that state legislative seat or chamber.
During the Obama years, Democrats had been decimated in state politics. Going into last night, Republicans controlled a “trifecta” in 26 states—the governorship and both houses of the state legislature—in 26 states, a majority of the country. They still control those 26. But Democrats went from six trifectas to eight (adding New Jersey and Washington state), and they also might tie for control of the Virginia House of Delegates, while Republicans barely hold on to the state senate. The results Tuesday night increased the Democrats’ power in the states to actually make policy, and they have the potential to win even more next year.
‘The winner of the 2018 midterm elections will be the party that can best contain its divisions. Democrats were the clear winner on that front.’
Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine and co-host of the Bloggingheads.tv show “The DMZ.”
With both parties experiencing ideological upheaval and internal tensions, the winner of the 2018 midterm elections will be the party that can best contain its divisions. Democrats were the clear winner on that front. They elected both a former Goldman Sachs executive and a former George W. Bush supporter to gubernatorial seats, as well as a corporate-backed Democrat to the Seattle mayor’s office, while also sending a democratic socialist to the Virginia state house and electing progressives to various local posts.
There’s no question that Trump’s unpopularity dragged Republicans down. And New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie was toxic, with a 22 percent approval rating among exit poll respondents—14 points worse than Trump’s. But these races were not examples in which voters were disgusted with their choices. The Democratic Party earned a net positive approval from New Jersey and Virginia voters in exit polls. Most Virginia voters approved of the incumbent Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, and more Virginians said the state’s economy was getting better than getting worse. Those factors buoyed Democrats up and down the ticket.
To say Democrats are in rock-solid shape vastly overstates the case. But they are clearly in stronger shape than the Republicans heading into 2018.
‘Republicans must figure out if they want establishment or pro-Trump candidates’
Scottie Nell Hughes is political editor at RightAlerts.com.
Republicans lost Tuesday night. They must quickly figure out before the 2018 primaries if they want establishment or pro-Trump candidates (shocking we are not on the same team yet), and the competition between the two cannot be filled with mudslinging. Extremely dirty and divisive primaries will only result in reduced voter engagement and turnout for the GOP candidate in the general election. As long as this divide in the Republican Party continues, GOP candidates cannot count on voters showing up just for they party’s sake anymore. Tuesday night showed that while there is a lot of turmoil within the Democratic Party, they are unified and motivated against Trump and the Republican Party.
If a Republican wants any chance of being reelected or holding his or her seat, those candidates must also start passing productive legislation immediately. The blame game against the White House is not going over well with the Republican base, as shown on Tuesday night, and GOP voters are going to hold their own accountable if their legislative agenda continues to be stagnant.
‘Paul Ryan should be losing sleep over this’
Terry Sullivan is partner at the political consulting firm Firehouse Strategies.
This was a big loss for Republicans and a harbinger of things to come. Generally, pundits and some in the media overreach by trying to draw huge national conclusions from an individual race. But what happened in Virginia on Tuesday wasn’t just one race; it was a total wipeout for Republicans.
The huge Democratic gains in the House of Delegates are a much better indicator of the prevailing political winds than the top of the ticket, and it now looks like Democrats may have control of the House of Delegates for the first time in 20 years. Those losses for down-ballot Republicans are more indicative of voting by party because the individual candidate are less well known. Democrats clearly had much more energy on their side than anyone thought, including the Democrats. Paul Ryan should be losing sleep over this.
‘Grassroots campaigns are the key to the Democratic Party’s success next year’
Donna Brazile is former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats won. Tuesday’s elections may have sent a message to Trump. But that message was that the voters prefer Democratic policies that help the middle class and those struggling to enter the middle class; Democratic values like inclusiveness and respect for all people; and basic civility that should characterize our discourse.
Tactically, Tuesday was nothing short of a blue wave, which proved that grassroots campaigns are the key to the Democratic Party’s success next year. Democrats must no longer cherry pick which states and which dates to invest in the grassroots. We must go everywhere. And we plan on doing that.
‘The culture wars excite a certain section of base—but also alienate many voters’
Stuart Stevens is a political consultant with Strategic Partners and Media.
Tuesday night’s election results highlighted the difficult position in which Trump places many Republican candidates. The culture wars excite a certain section of base—but also alienate many voters who are more focused on the economy and a traditional conservative message of less government.
It seems instructive that the Republican lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates outperformed the top of the ticket. Both held conservative positions but did not engage in inflammatory cultural issues. I’d say there was a message in those results for future Republican candidates.
‘Gillespie did everything he could to adopt the president’s positions … and it was repudiated’
Douglas Schoen is a pollster and former advisor to President Bill Clinton and Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
These elections must be seen as Democratic wins. Northam’s victory was convincing—a margin 3 points greater than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 win—and the Democrats flipped at least 14 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, not to mention that they were victorious in the lieutenant governor and attorney general races. This sweep gives major momentum to Democrats in a center-left state. Make no mistake about it: This is the leading takeaway of Tuesday’s results.
It is particularly noteworthy, too, that while New Jersey was a foregone conclusion, for the second time in the past 12 years, Democrats there elected a former Goldman Sachs executive as governor at a time when the party’s ties to Wall Street are at risk, yet are more important than ever.
Still, it would also be a mistake to not see the results as a significant loss for the Republicans. For Trump to say Gillespie didn’t tie himself close enough to him is absurd. Gillespie did everything he could to adopt the president’s positions on crime, public safety and even Confederate monuments. It didn’t work, and it was repudiated. Nowhere, other than perhaps in some isolated rural areas, was Gillespie able to maintain anything close to Trump’s 2016 numbers. If the president fails to pass tax reform, as he failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, these elections could be a harbinger of ill for the Republican party.
‘Republicans would be wrong to ignore the eagerness of affluent whites with college and graduate degrees to rebuke this president’
Matthew Continetti is editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon.
Democrats won last night by mobilizing anti-Trump sentiment among highly educated suburban voters. Republicans will be tempted to dismiss Democratic victories in states that haven’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988 (New Jersey) and 2004 (Virginia). But they would be wrong to ignore the eagerness of affluent whites with college and graduate degrees to rebuke this president. For one thing, anti-Trump enthusiasm puts the GOP congressional majority at risk. For another, overlooking the class dimension to Tuesday’s results blinds Republicans to the true nature of their coalition—and thus leads them to champion policies, such as corporate tax cuts, that will have little to no direct impact on their voters.
‘Tuesday night saw accountability for Trumpism and a retaking of power’
Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg are executive directors of the Indivisible Project.
Early in the Trump presidency, our advocacy group, Indivisible, and its various chapters put pressure on members of Congress in every state and district in America during the health care fight, and that pressure reshaped the national conversation. But Indivisible groups have always been clear: Resistance is not—and cannot—be about issue advocacy alone. In order for progressives to truly reclaim power and change what’s politically possible, they must also win elections. That’s what we saw Tuesday night—accountability for Trumpism and a retaking of power. The results should give pause to Republicans running in 2018 who are considering cynically doubling down on Trump’s white supremacist politics. Tuesday night shows that in addition to being morally wrong, it’s politically disastrous.
‘These forces were driven by a loathing of Trump.’
Tim Miller is a former spokesperson for Jeb Bush and a partner at Definers Public Affairs.
The results in Virginia are not complicated to analyze. Northam won on the strength of presidential level turnout in suburban Virginia and with high water mark margins among women and young voters. It does not take any special insight to identify that these forces were driven by a loathing of Trump. Gillespie won more substantially more votes statewide than Republican gubernatorial Ken Cuccinelli did in 2013, and met expectations in “Trump Country.” Yet it wasn’t enough.
‘Democrats’ hostility to Trump overrode their anxieties about their recent losses and the bitterness of continuing divisions’
Michael Kazin is professor of history at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent magazine.
Democrats won last night because their profound hostility to Trump overrode their anxieties about their recent losses and the bitterness of continuing divisions between the Sanderista left and the center of the party. We may be seeing a replay, in partisan reverse, of what occurred during the Carter administration 40 years ago, when the unpopularity of a president whom most of the party establishment had not favored spurred enthusiasm among activists from the other party—and led to big electoral defeats for the incumbent and his party.
‘Congressional Republicans should see this as a warning shot’
Ron Bonjean is a Republican strategist and partner at ROKK Solutions
Democrats won because both Virginia and New Jersey are blue states, which Hillary Clinton carried during the 2016 presidential race. Virginia Democrats already have the governor’s mansion, as well as both Senate seats. More voters are registering blue than ever before in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. In addition, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie achieved record low approval ratings amid his various scandals, virtually guaranteeing a Democratic win. These voters who elected Democratic governors last night were energized more than ever largely because of Trump’s victory and their fear of continued losses if they stayed home. Congressional Republicans should see this as a warning shot across their bow that GOP voter enthusiasm will surely suffer if they don’t have significant legislative wins such as tax reform to run on soon.
‘Republicans are too fearful to challenge the president or Steve Bannon’
Joshua Ulibarri is a pollster and partner at Lake Research Partners
Republicans lost last night. If Democrats had lost, and Northam were not going to become governor, at least us Democrats would have had a debate about where to go next. Did Northam play it too conservatively, saying he would work with Trump and sign the sanctuary cities ban? Would his primary rival Tom Periello have increased turnout and made a difference? We Democrats are great at those kinds of machinations. But Republicans lost and don’t even know where to start when it comes to a debate because there is no debate. They are too fearful to challenge the president or Steve Bannon (assuming they don’t “Flake” out and call it a career). They are locked into this death spiral with an unpopular president, a do-nothing Congress and a deeply dangerous agenda that voters hate. There is no alternative. The Trump message of hate and divisiveness did not translate to state candidates in purple to blue states, and they have no other viable path than this one which keeps the base relatively awake but turns-off the swing and undecided voter.
‘The under-30 crowd’ mobilized
Howard Dean is the former governor of Vermont and a former Democratic National Committee chair.
Democrats won last night. While the Beltway crowd was focusing on Trump, the under-30 crowd was mobilizing and getting trained so they could remake Virginia in their own image. Next up is Alabama, and Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Missouri. And then we’re going to the White House to take back Washington DC.
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