It’s been called a “rejection,” “rebuke,” and “disaster” for Republicans, but are last night’s election results really as significant as the media’s making them out to be? Some experts say no. After a string of special election beatings, the victories for Democrats Ralph Northam (Va.) and Phil Murphy (N.J.) are a huge relief to an embattled Left. Watching blue states like Virginia and New Jersey deal a death blow to the GOP’s hopes of recapturing the governor’s mansion was gratifying to liberals, but not incredibly surprising. As CNBC warns its overly exuberant counterparts, these are states that have been “swinging for Democrats for almost two decades.”
“The consensus take on the sweeping wins for the Democrats in the Old Dominion is that this is a repudiation of President Donald Trump, his policies, and his political tone. Not exactly,” warns Jake Novak.
“What the election results really prove without a doubt is that Virginia is now undeniably blue. The Democrats have won the state three straight times in presidential elections, four of the last five governor’s elections, and the once solid red state even has two Democrats representing it in the U.S. Senate. The reasons this has happened are a series of demographic and political factors that were in motion long before Donald Trump became a candidate.”
While the Left is exchanging morning-after high fives, all is hardly lost.
The media’s narrative is that this is a repudiation of President Trump’s agenda. But that doesn’t necessarily jive with other races in Virginia, which, with the exception of Gillespie, were much tighter. In fact, the more conservative down-ticket candidates (like those vying for attorney general and lieutenant governor) won more votes than Gillespie. Liberal donors managed to capture a significant number of statehouse seats, whose campaigns they’d been targeting with significant contributions for months. Republicans couldn’t compete financially — or, it turns out, emotionally.
President Trump, Novak points out, “needn’t worry so much about Virginia, but he should be concerned about Democratic organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.” The enthusiasm gap definitely favored Democrats, who flooded the polls, turning out eight percent more voters — 28 percent — than 2013. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a lack of participation on evangelicals’ part that cost Gillespie and others (turnout was only down a single point — to 27 percent — from 2013). Conservatives just couldn’t seem to match the fervor on the other side. Even so, Gillespie still raked in 79 percent of the white evangelical vote compared to 81 percent for Cuccinelli and 80 percent for Trump.
Meanwhile, not all of the news for Democrats was good. They may have won the biggest prizes in New Jersey and the extension of the swamp in Virginia, but they certainly aren’t winning any popularity contests. Analysts were stunned by favorability ratings for the party, which spell disaster once the broader electorate is engaged. As Ryan Struyk tweeted, a lot of Americans seem to have held their noses to vote. “Some frightening splits in new @CNN poll for Dems. Only 48 percent of nonwhites and 33 percent of people under 35 (!) have favorable view of Dem party.” That’s a big picture problem for the democrats, who are facing record highs in disapproval. CNN reports, “Only 37 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Democrats, down from 44 percent in March of this year. A majority, 54 percent have an unfavorable view, matching their highest mark in polls from CNN and SSRS, CNN/ORC and CNN/USA Today/Gallup stretching back to 1992.”
Of course, the news isn’t exactly rosy for Republicans either, who are feeling the heat of a series of congressional missteps. With Trump’s agenda hampered at almost every turn (in a GOP-controlled Congress), you can’t blame voters for venting their frustration. When Democrats overstep on social issues (as many blame Hillary Clinton for doing in 2016), Americans turn to Republicans — who often fail to act, despite the mandate they’ve been given. Obviously, if the GOP has any hope of preserving its majority, the Senate will have to pull itself together on the big ticket-items before voters have a chance to reconsider.
The takeaway from Tuesday’s results is this: these two states are an extremely small sample size of mainly blue voters. The real test will come in Alabama, the heart of Trump country, where the special election for Jeff Session’s old Senate seat will give us a much better indication of what Americans are thinking. Even now, though, in swing states like Pennsylvania, the support for the president runs deep. Virtually unscathed by the congressional drama, the president still polls well in purple states. In a fascinating article, Politico tries to explain why Trump’s base is still rallying around the president, supplying the bulk of his rocky approval ratings.
“Over the course of three rainy, dreary days last week,” Michael Kruse writes, “I revisited and shook hands with the president’s base — that thirty-something percent of the electorate who resolutely approve of the job he is doing, the segment of voters who share his view that the Russia investigation is a ‘witch hunt’ that ‘has nothing to do with him,’ and who applaud his judicial nominees and his determination to gut the federal regulatory apparatus… In spite of unprecedented unpopularity — nearly all people who voted for Trump would do it again.”
As we saw with Clinton, who was abandoned by blue collar voters for her extreme social stance (“the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job”), Middle America still embraces Trump’s agenda. But they also understand his limitations without a cooperative Congress. “I asked [voter Pam] Schilling what would happen if the next three years go the way the last one has,” Kruse shares. “‘I’m not going to blame him,'” Schilling said. “‘Absolutely not.'”
“Next to [another person I was interviewing] was a gray-haired man who told me he voted for Trump and was happy so far because ‘he’s kept his promises.'”
“I asked which ones.”
“‘Border security.’ But there’s no wall yet. “‘No fault of his,’ the man said.”
“What else? ‘Getting rid of Obamacare.’ But he hasn’t. ‘Well, he’s tried to.'”
“What else? ‘Defunding Planned Parenthood.’ But he didn’t. ‘Not his fault again,’ the man said.”
As for Tuesday’s results, liberals have the momentum — that much is clear. But it’s nothing a determined the GOP House and Senate can’t wrestle back with big wins on tax reform and health care. It’s not an impossible task for conservatives, but it’s certainly an urgent one.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.
Also in the November 8 Washington Update: