So much for the punditocracy…. (More)
“It’s hard to imagine a statewide candidate who was in the lead with three weeks left who has had a worse close to their campaign”
So declared a GOP pollster in Chris Cillizza’s handwringing analysis of the Virginia governor’s race on Monday. Cillizza cited the RealClearPolitics aggregate that showed Democrat Ralph Northam slipping from a 6.5% lead a month ago to just 3% in the last round of polling. Northam was too wishy-washy. Or too defensive. Or too aggressive. Or too … something.
Except yesterday Northam won by almost 9% … a wider margin than last month’s 6.5% lead … a wider margin than Hillary Clinton’s Virginia victory last year. Hrmm….
Simply put, election night 2017 was a fantastic night for the Democratic Party.
First off, the party won convincing victories in the two marquee governor’s races. In Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) quieted pundits by defeating GOP operative Ed Gillespie. And in New Jersey, financier Phil Murphy defeated Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno to retake the governor’s mansion for Democrats.
But the good news for the party didn’t end there. In Virginia, Democrats also won sweeping victories downballot, particularly in the state’s House of Delegates — including in races that weren’t even on the radar of most electoral analysts. All sorts of Democrats picked up seats there, from conventional establishment times to a democratic socialist to the first openly transgender person to win a state legislative seat in the United States. The Republican brand was simply toxic.
All year, it has seemed that Democrats were in disarray. The party’s shocking 2016 defeats had reduced it to a smoking ruin. Bitter wounds from that year’s presidential primary still hadn’t healed. The party fell short in several dramatic House special elections. Its leadership appeared out of touch with its voters. People knew they were against Donald Trump, true, but what were they for?
On Tuesday, though, the Democratic brand appeared to be doing just fine.
As part of a larger wave of Democratic wins on Election Day 2017, Democrats picked up two seats in special elections held for Georgia’s House of Delegates.
Deborah Gonzales won House District 117 with 53 percent of the vote and Jonathan Wallace won House District 119 with 56 percent of the vote. Both seats are in the Athens area and both were vacant, hence the special elections. But not only were the two seats previously held by Republican incumbents, they were uncontested in the 2016 elections.
Superior Democratic recruiting in these kind of races is both a cause and a consequence of a national political environment that is now Democratic leaning. It’s much easier to get people excited about running for office when the climate is favorable, so the uptick in recruiting is itself a result of Donald Trump’s unpopularity. But it’s also the case that no matter how unpopular Trump is, you can’t win elections without fielding candidates. In 2016, Democrats didn’t have candidates in these races. In 2017 they did, and they both won.
In Maine, a Medicaid expansion referendum won by an almost 20-point margin. In Washington, Democrats took full control of the state legislature. In Ohio, a multi-term mayor who switched from Democrat to Republican to back the God-King last year — was trounced by a Democratic union leader. And the beat went on:
Democrats added to their majority in the New Jersey state Senate, and picked up two additional state Assembly seats.
The party won a GOP-held seat in the New Hampshire state House, too.
Even local elections tipped left on Tuesday. In St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Rick Kriseman won re-election, after campaigning with former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic stalwarts, over former Mayor Rick Baker in an upset in a race in which early polls showed Baker leading.
In Manchester, N.H., Joyce Craig became the first woman to win the mayor’s office, and the first Democrat to win the city since 2003, after she ousted four-term incumbent Ted Gatsas (R).
Senior Democratic strategists said their candidates had found a way to tie Republican candidates to the deeply unpopular president, not through his uncouth statements and behavior but through his unpopular policies.
“We’re getting better about our Trump messaging,” said Jessica Post, who heads the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a group dedicated to winning state legislative elections.
Across a series of special elections held over the past year, Democratic candidates for House and state legislature have been outperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin by 11 points and Barack Obama’s 2012 margin by 9 points.
It’s not a completely uniform trend. Cuban-American Republicans running in South Florida continue to do far better locally than the national GOP does even when, as in Florida’s 40th Senate District, they ultimately lose. And Democrats are struggling in Connecticut, where the local economy is bad and the incumbent governor unpopular. But nationally it’s clear that the traditional trend against the incumbent party is, indeed, in effect.
Eight state legislature seats flipped from R to D in special elections, with none going the opposite direction.
Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 8, 2017
Two days ago, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, told the New York Times that Gillespie had “closed an enthusiasm gap by rallying around the Trump agenda … in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward.”
This was the Democrats’ worst nightmare: that Trumpism might work better without Trump. That Gillespie could take Trump’s culture-war playbook – his attacks on immigrants and diversity and disorder – and, in severing it from Trump’s erratic personal behavior, do what Trump couldn’t: win blueish states like Virginia.
Except Gillespie lost. He lost by more than Trump did. He lost by more than other statewide Republicans running in Virginia. Trumpism without Trump didn’t just fail to win. It collapsed.
The reason, I suspect, is that Bannon had it exactly backward. The age of Trumpism without Trump isn’t ahead of us. It’s behind us, at least for now. Trumpism without Trump was possible before Trump was president. It might be possible after he’s president. It’s not possible while he’s president.
In 2016, Trump had the advantage of being a true outsider: He had no record to answer for, no unemployment rate to explain, no votes to justify. For all his oddities and eccentricities, he was a blank slate — a businessman to those who wanted a businessman, a culture warrior to those who wanted a culture warrior, a pragmatist to those who wanted a pragmatist, a conservative to those who wanted a conservative, and so on. He was theory severed from practice; “ism” without the reality check of is.
But now we have Trumpism with Trump, and the American people don’t much like it. Trump is no longer an abstraction, Trumpism no longer an idea. Instead, we are watching the real thing: a White House in chaos, a legislative agenda in shambles, a world in which nuclear war is likelier and America’s global leadership is diminished. Trump isn’t merely unpopular; he is less popular than any president at this point in their term since the advent of modern polling, and he is that unpopular even though the economy is growing and Americans are not dying in large numbers overseas.
How toxic was the GOP agenda? The conservative, 13-term-incumbent state legislator who wrote Virginia’s failed “bathroom bill” was toppled by Democrat Danica Roem, the first openly transgender state legislator in U.S. history. While the Republican ran against Roem’s identity, she ran for fixing traffic-clogged Route 28 in Manassas.
Her victory was part of Democrats flipping at least 16 state assembly seats and possibly taking control of the House of Delegates, which no one believed possible even a few weeks ago.
And trans woman Andrea Jenkins was elected to the Minneapolis City Council. It’s technically a non-partisan race, but Jenkins identified as a Democrat and was endorsed by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and supported by the LGBTQ Victory Fund. She won 70% of the vote in her ward.
So please, tell me how “identity politics” is killing the Democratic Party. Tell me how Obamacare killed us and we need to “get right” on immigration and abortion, and stop talking about women and race and LGBTs. Tell me how we need to focus on “economic issues” that appeal to “ordinary voters” (i.e.: white men).
Last night didn’t predict 2018 or 2020. But it strongly suggests that a lot of voters have finally recognized the GOP for what they truly are. That a lot of voters have looked at what Democrats offer and said “I want that.”
The kind of message that might have gotten through in 2016, if the media weren’t so laser-focused on the God-King’s antics and Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just sayin’….
Image Credits — Democratic, Republican logos: WikiCommons; Composition: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)
Good day and good nuts