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GOP's Virginia Loss Tells Us Little About the State of American Politics

Governors' mansions changing hands is nothing extraordinary.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ed Gillespie (0-1)Douglas Graham / Loudoun Now/NewscomBefore it's all over, President Donald Trump may well obliterate the Republican Party's prospects for the coming decade or longer. But despite much wishful thinking among liberals, the big GOP losses in Virginia do not prove this contention. There's really nothing unprecedented about cyclical pushbacks in politics. And if every election were really imbued with the kind of game-changing importance that political pundits claim, it would mean Americans were going through massive ideological fluctuations every year, which seems unlikely.

A theory: Even if Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie had mimicked Trump's populism to complete perfection, he still would have lost. As it is, he outran Trump by about 1 percent. The idea that Trumpism—however people define it—is especially popular in general, or popular in a state with many Democrats, is merely theoretical considering no one other than Hillary Clinton has been beaten by it in an open election.

There are two types who want us to think there was a sea change among the GOP over the past year: liberals who want to paint all Republicans as a bunch of white supremacists and Trump populists; and those who are trying to convince everyone that post-World War II conservatism is dead. Neither of these things are true.

What's more plausible is that Trump's victory was predicated on general distaste for Clinton, and people voted for a Republican after eight years of a progressive White House. As it is, voters tend to embrace change after two-term presidencies. The majority of GOP candidates ran ahead of the president in their states in 2016, and most ran on traditional conservative issues.

Another theory: Republicans would have lost Virginia even if Mitt Romney or Sen. Marco Rubio were president. They would have lost even if Congress had passed tax reform and overturned Obamacare. Virginia is a blue state. Clinton handily won Virginia. So did Barack Obama—twice. Winning a blue state in what is by any historical standard a good environment for blue candidates is exceptionally normal. The majority of the seats Republicans lost yesterday leaned Democrat or were competitive to begin with, and Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam ran a milquetoast, moderate campaign, even promising to work with the president. That's hardly resistance-level stuff.

"The high level of turnout is a clear signal to our Republican friends they are facing an energized electorate that understands how cruel and misguided President Trump's policies are," claimed Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Actually, voters are always this energized. They just happen to be a different set of voters. In 2009, when conservatism was forever buried and then-President Obama boasted high favorability numbers and legislative accomplishments, there were gubernatorial elections in both New Jersey and Virginia. In both cases, the governorship changed hands from Democrats to Republicans. (I don't recall much talk about these results being a rejection of all liberalism and Obama's policies, but perhaps that was the takeaway.) In 2001, a year into President George W. Bush's first term, Democrats took back the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia.

It's conceivable that the GOP will be trounced in the 2018 midterms. It's likely, in fact. Since 1862, the president's party has averaged 32-seat losses in the House in the first midterms after his election. In 2010, Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, just two years after a resounding Obama victory. The only difference would be that Democrats used their two-year window of power to pass a massive entitlement program. Republicans don't seem to have the courage to pass even piddling reform.

Republicans deserve to be admonished for their poor organization and bad candidates. They may be able to mitigate their losses by scoring some legislative successes. Republicans are impotent and in disarray. This is obvious.

Was the Virginia loss also a backlash against the president? I'm sure that's part of it, too. Trump is historically unpopular, and his presidency has become the all-consuming topic in Washington, D.C. But Virginia was not unique. Arguing that these conventional political losses denote colossal shifts in American politics is disingenuous, unless you can explain why these results are different from what's happened in the past.

The more likely explanation for what's going on is that our votes aren't as well-thought out as pollsters imagine. Maybe elections, both presidential and local, tell us less than we think. Maybe voters are instinctively averse to those in charge because those in charge always let them down. And maybe once a president is elected, the other half intuitively begins working to strip him of power. Maybe politics is a tribal endeavor rather than a policy-driven decision.

Photo Credit: Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now/Newscom

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    Virginia has massive interests against what Trump is doing to rollback government and is almost completely a blue state.

    Voter demographics have been changing for years. Luckily, there are so many lefties in the USA and that seems to be shrinking rather than growing. The issue is that Commifornia and NY have tens of thousands of lefties leaving those states every year and moving to where the jobs are. The lefties are moving to Nevada, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, and Florida. The tipping point for Nevada and Colorado has already arrived and those states are on their way to blue.

    When the lefties destroy Nevada and Colorado, they might move on to other states and then Nevada and Colorado will return to being red states. The lefty exodus is happening in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    DC is the mecca for Nanny-Staters, so Virginia and Maryland are just prime choices for lefty takeovers.

  • MasterThief||

    The DC area, Charlottesville, and parts of the tidal region in VA are Democrat, but the majority isn't. Unfortunately, the DC area also has a huge population so they decide every statewide election.

  • I can't even||

    Virginia has a tumor spreading in from the north.

  • Domestic Dissident||

    You nailed it dead on, and it's the most malignant tumor on earth: left-wing socialists.

    These locusts devour and destroy everything, and when they're done they move on to the next target.

  • jogibew||

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do... www.netcash10.com

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The other thing is Trump is getting blamed for Democrat wins in Virginia but it is more likely that RINOs in Congress are receiving the wrath of voters and that is not being discussed in the media. RINOs are holding up the repeal of ObamaCare, tax reform, and other government rollback measures that would increase Trump's popularity. That an d Virginia already had a Democrat Governor, so no major change there.

    The left's only real weapon left is the media to make it seem like Trump is unpopular and they hope RINOs will stall any repeal of ObamaCare and tax reform until 2018 election time.

    What I predict will happen is that if the RINOs don't cooperate with Republicans to repeal ObamaCare and pass tax reform, RINOs will be voted out. Most conservative voters know the score. Then ObamCare will be repealed and tax reform will happen.

  • Mickey Rat||

    But the Congressional GOP's dysfunction is also Trump's fault because he is not providing good leadership on policy. If there is anything about the GOP establishment, it is the ability to rationalize no need to change what they do.

  • colorblindkid||

    I just love how, even after Christie, Murphy could only get 56% of the vote. That gives me a little hope. Maybe people do remember why we elected a Republican to begin with, because one party Democrat rule for a decade had ruined the state.

    Christie will go down as our biggest asshole governor, but one of the least terrible. He was absolutely terrible, but this is New Jersey.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    THIS... IS... JOISEY! [kicks cbk into pit full of guidos]

  • I can't even||

    Yep - as Mulshine pointed out, he was by far our best (or least bad) Governor in a very long time.

    Murphy is an obvious clown who campaigned on absolute nonsense - and it was a rainy day.

  • colorblindkid||

    Almost every one of my friends voted for Murphy solely because they actually believed him when he said he would fully legalize weed.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The idea that Trumpism—however people define it—is especially popular in general, or popular in a state with many Democrats, is merely theoretical considering no one other than Hillary Clinton has been beaten by it in an open election.

    It is true that Hillary Clinton has been one of the most widely reviled people in America for a quarter of a century. That said, it's weird to refer to a grab bag of old-ass busted populist ideas as if it were a new thing called "Trumpism."

  • Azathoth!!||

    What 'loss'?

    Why do you people keep saying that the GOP 'lost' Virginia?

    It went from Democrat governor to Democrat governor.

    If the GOP had WON--that would be saying something--but what happened was a continuation of the status quo.

    Even Christie's defeat is nothing more than a return to the status quo.

    There really were no stunning dem wins this week--no matter how people are trying to spin this.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The Democrats also picked up a bunch of seats in the state legislature.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Ooooh! the state legislature!!!

    Did it switch control? No?

    Ah.

    Can you say 'status quo'?

  • Tony||

    Dems won the popular vote for state legislator seats overwhelmingly. They'd control it if any semblance of normal conceptions of American democracy weren't trampled by soon-to-be-illegal gerrymandering.

    Let me guess, you have some brilliant theory for why a state legislature should actually reflect the opposite of the will of the democratic majority of the state's citizens, at least when it's Republicans who cheat to win?

  • Azathoth!!||

    So?

    You can make all the excuses you want--in the end, this was pretty much a 'status quo' election.

    Nothing much has changed.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Exactly. Seems that Terry McAuliffe (didn't the Reason staff love him as much as Obama?) was turned into a Republican so someone did not have to be shown the replace function in WordStar.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Maybe elections, both presidential and local, tell us less than we think. Maybe voters are instinctively averse to those in charge because those in charge always let them down. And maybe once a president is elected, the other half intuitively begins working to strip him of power. Maybe politics is a tribal endeavor rather than a policy-driven decision.

    QFT

  • DJF||

    One of the reasons is that Ed Gillespie only got 43 percent of the Republican primary voters and almost lost to Corey Steward who got 42 percent.

    So Gillespie was not very popular even among primary voting Republicans, let alone none primary voting Republicans and Independents

  • DavidS-T||

    I love the "if you just eliminate the people we don't like , we have the majority!" line I see here so often...

  • Tony||

    Correction: Hillary Clinton was not beaten by Trumpism in any kind of election any sane person would recognize. The obsolete and anachronistic Electoral College negated her 3 million vote election win. Thank you for listening.

  • DJF||

    obsolete and anachronistic = legal and constitutional

  • Tony||

    And you'd no doubt be just as sanguine about it if it gave Hillary the presidency against the will of the people.

  • Azathoth!!||

    And you'd no doubt be just as sanguine about it if it gave Hillary the presidency against the will of the people.

    Absolutely.

    I'd bitch and moan on H&R, and vote for people I like better--just like I did when Obama won.

    I didn't spend 8 years screeching that he wasn't the 'real' president or any of the other idiocy we see on a daily basis coming from the left since Trump got elected.

    And it wasn't 'against the will of the people'.

  • DGB||

    Well now, the electoral college is legal & constitutional, and also against the will of the people. It is possible for something to be both, much like the 3/5 rule.

    But I like to think we can get rid of the electoral college (which MIGHT have made sense when only a microscopic % of the population could vote to begin with) without a war.

  • damikesc||

    Would only require a Constitutional Amendment which will never pass.

  • Rebel Scum||

    negated her 3 million vote election win

    She "won" by rules of a different game that was not being played. I'd explain the finer points of why we have an EC, but you wouldn't listen anyway.

  • Tony||

    To forestall some unqualified lunatic from ascending to the presidency?

  • Rebel Scum||

    To forestall some unqualified lunatic from ascending to the presidency?

    Well, it DID stop one of the worst, most corrupt candidates in history in 2016...

  • DGB||

    I'm never sure why. It's advocates seem to argue simultaneously that it's to protect the rabble from themselves when they win AND to allow them to impose the tyranny of the minority when they lose. Surely it can't be both.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Hillary Clinton was not beaten by 'Trumpism'.

    She was beaten by the fact that she decided to run as if the popular vote has ever meant anything in American Presidential elections. Since it never has, her strategy was completely wrong.

    She campaigned to get higher vote totals in blue states that she was going to take anyway.

    Trump campaigned where it mattered.

    While the nation was playing chess, Clinton was playing tic-tac-toe.

  • Tony||

    Yeah this "Trump took his fat ass to certain zip codes" argument is very convincing. Given all the wild card factors in that election, does merely showing up in a certain state really swing that many votes do you think? Is there data on the effectiveness of this?

  • mpercy||

    While Obama could not legally seek a third term, his hand-picked proxy Hillary Clinton, about whom he proclaimed "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America." dropped the election to a problem-riddled political rookie who was denounced by many in his own party!

    Obama campaigned extensively for Hillary, and she outspent Trump by about 4:1. And she *still* lost to Trump, losing 5 states that Obama had carried twice.

    We cannot ignore the fact that people vote or not at least partly according to their perception that their vote will count. So any claims about "popular vote" are meaningless.

    How many Republicans who might have voted for Trump in California simply did something else on election day because Clinton's victory in the state was assured? How many Democrats stayed home in Alabama because they figure Trump had the state locked up?

    The "popular vote" is meaningless UNLESS that it the metric used for the actual election. Too many factors affect it otherwise. It wasn't.

    Clinton and her team knew EXACTLY how the EC system works, it's only been the system for more than 200 years.

    She campaigned on her own accord, and STILL lost to an odious rookie whom she outspent by about 4:1.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Given all the wild card factors in that election, does merely showing up in a certain state really swing that many votes do you think? Is there data on the effectiveness of this?

    I have no idea. It's gotta work better than just taking certain places for granted though--and campaigning for votes in places where you're already going to win by a huge margin.

    Excuses. That's all you've got.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Federalist Turd is trying to console himself that Virginia elections showed nothing new by simplifying that governorships change hands all the time.

    What about the change in the legislature? Where Homophobe-in-chief lost a transsexual candidate, whose bathroom privileges he was trying to regulate?

    Remember how it was "if only the Democrats were to stay away from transgender bathrooms rules and tried to help the white working class poor?"

    Well, looks like that bullshit did not work for the bigots, did it? The Democrats are not the ones creating any such bills, it is the Republicans. It is always the Republicans that are trying to ban gay marriage, deny marriage certificates, restrict voting, make voting difficult for minorities, remove protections for transgenders, make abortion even less accessible, close Planned Parenthood, ... while blaming Democrats for trying to focus on these unimportant issues.

    Go fuck yourself, David.

  • buddhastalin||

    On gay marriage you seem to have forgotten your history. California put a ban on gay marriage into its Constitution the same year it gave Barack Obama all its electoral votes. The ban could not have happened with Republican votes alone. Other Democrat states that had banned gay marriage include Hawaii (the earliest one), Illinois, Maryland, Oregon and Washington.

  • NoVaNick||

    My take on it-the rain here kept a lot of regular GOP voters home (i.e. those over 65), and the smurfs turned out in force to vote against cheetoman. The dems have been targeting these districts that flipped for months and pouring in lots of money from big donors in NY and CA and they got a good return on their investment, If it had been sunny and 70 degrees, maybe they would have won half of these.

  • Hank Phillips||

    How odd that David should refer to the assimilation of National Socialist policies by God's Own Prohibitionists as "Post World War II Conservatism". This business began in 1928 when Hoover was elected for "building a new race," then in 1931 pushed the "standstill agreement" aka "Moratorium on Brains" that allowed Germany to rearm instead of paying reparations for the initiation of war. The Eisenhower Administration put "God" all over our money and into the Pledge of Allegiance, then proceeded to hang mystical icons all over government buildings. George Wallace spoiler votes to this day are clearly making a lot of policy decisions for that Old Time Republican religion.

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