Ryan and Santorum Disagree on Meaning of Democrats’ VA Election Sweep

Nearly every observer has an interpretation of yesterday’s electoral sweep of Virginia by the Democratic Party, the first significant, positive performance the party has displayed since the election of Donald Trump.

President Trump quickly tossed gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie beneath a bus after his loss, which unexpectedly was by 9 points, despite the fact that Trump had tweeted and robo-called in support of Gillespie just before the election. He likes winners, you see, and those who “embrace” him.

 

But Gillespie was not a winner, despite not only Trump’s endorsement, but the Trumpian atmosphere of his campaign, which included strong criticism of his opponent Ralph Northam via ads on the issues of illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, as well as echoes of the president on Confederate monuments and kneeling NFL players.

He wasn’t the only Republican loser on Tuesday; it was a sweep.

Democrats also won at least 14 seats in the state’s House of Delegates and could gain control of the chamber for the first time since 2000, depending on the outcomes of four races that qualify for recount, The Washington Post reported.

Additionally, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio won reelection and Chris Christie, formerly among the most unpopular governors in the country, certainly contributed to his Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno’s loss in her bid to replace him — she was defeated Democrat

So what happened in Virginia? Is this a rejection of Trump, dissatisfaction with the performance of the Republican Congress, or both? (The New Yorker triumphantly finds Trumpism in decline. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum came down on opposite each other in their interpretations of the results.

Ryan spoke at a tax reform event held by The Washington Examiner. Responding to the election results in the context of the GOP’s new tax bill, he said the following:

“It doesn’t change my reading of the current moment. It just emphasizes my reading of the current moment which is we have a promise to keep…. We’ve got to get on with keeping our promise, and one of the chief promises we made when we ran for office … in 2016 was that we would do tax reform and tax cuts for families, for people, and so we’ve got to get on with that.”

He went on to say, that “If anything, this just puts more pressure on making sure we follow through…That’s what I take out of it. I adore Ed Gillespie. I feel bad that he lost, but I think it simply means we’ve got to deliver.”

The Republican party is even less popular than Trump himself, as is Congress as a whole. Despite majorities in both houses, the GOP has accomplished almost nothing of its legislative agenda. Most victories for Trump are the fleeting sort executive orders bring. That makes Ryan’s (and Trump’s) interpretation plausible.

Santorum had a different interpretation. Appearing on CNN on a panel analyzing the results, the former Pennsylvania senator blamed Trump’s “Twitter bombs” and “personal attacks”, arguing that “it is hurting him” and the Republican Party. (“Everyone is telling him that.”)  He went on to say that the voters who were turned off by Trump in Virginia, not because they were opposed to his agenda, but because they were opposed to the way he demeans others in public. That doesn’t include his treatment of the media, which Santorum believes goes over very well.

While Santorum acknowledged the lack of legislative accomplishment, he alluded to promises made by Trump in that regard, implying that a lack of leadership on the part of the president was at least in part responsible for Republicans having nothing to show for their nearly ten months of control of the federal government. In other words, the buck stops in the Oval Office.

Ironically, prior to Trump’s election, Santorum sought to appeal to the same working class voters Trump did, adopting unusually protectionist economic positions for a Republican. He validated Trump’s popularity in debates as well. By contrast, Ryan kept his distance from Trump for some time, and even easily fought off a supposedly Trump-like primary challenger, before ultimately embracing the inevitability of the Donald. Now the two appear to have flipped in where their locate the blame and aim their criticisms, and thus how they see Tuesday’s results.

Perhaps the answer simply is that all politics is local. That at least appears to have been the case in New York and New Jersey. Everyone wants to read the tea leaves in Virginia though, hoping to gain some insight into the future of the Trump presidency and Trumpism. Personally, I think it’s doubtful that this one case study can tell us much. What do you think?

Hot Takes On A Cold GOP Night

There is a very human tendency to ascribe significance to events in such as way as they can be used to predict the future.  Psychologically, I think this phenomenon is closely related to why people see the image of the Mona Lisa in a piece of toast, or the shape of a ducky or a horsey in clouds floating across the sky.  Since we’re always trying to impose a sense of order on the chaotic universe around us, we seek out patterns to try and make sense of it all.  Not only does this offer a sense of comfort, it also gives us a feeling of control:  if X happens, then Y is sure to follow.

It’s therefore no surprise that politicians and pundits alike are making all kinds of hay about the results of the Virginia and New Jersey elections yesterday.  In all fairness, there’s no other way you can spin it—the Democrats had a great night, and the GOP pretty much sucked wind.  Polling had Ed Gillespie running neck-and-neck with Ralph Northam, but in the end Northam blew him out with a comfortable margin.  In the Garden State, meanwhile, Phil Murphy utterly trounced Kim Guadagno, who had served as lieutenant governor to the notorious beachcomber Chris Christie.  Dems also racked up huge numbers in the Virginia legislature, erasing the Republican majority there in one fell swoop.  Naturally, this has all the talking heads asking what it all means for 2018, when control of Congress will be up for grabs in the first midterm election since Donald Trump won the presidency.

For what it’s worth, I summed it up in a single tweet:

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

THE DEMOCRATS

Give them credit, they were able to gin up and harness a mother lode of angst against Donald Trump, and then use it to drive voter turnout.  The enthusiasm gap between them and the GOP was indeed palpable, and as any seasoned politico will tell you, that’s where the battle is won and lost.  The Democrat rank and file saw themselves on a mission to save the country from Trumpzilla, whereas Republican voters largely yawned.  If they can keep the momentum they started going, the GOP just might have some big trouble ahead next year.

But let’s also look at the landscape.  New Jersey was a lost cause from the start, after Chris Christie throughly destroyed the GOP brand there.  The man who once thought he could be president rendered himself so toxic that he now couldn’t even get a Reform Party nod to run as dog catcher in Trenton.  Anyone connected to him was a long shot to begin with, especially in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-1 advantage over Republicans.  Guadagno’s loss there was a foregone conclusion, so it doesn’t signify much of anything.

As to Virginia, the political terrain there was also tough for Gillespie.  He had already lost a Senate bid there before, and political comebacks are tough no matter how you slice them.  There are also a great number of people in Northern Virginia who make their living off the federal government—which doesn’t exactly make them friendly to Republicans.  Add to that the tens of thousands of felons that outgoing governor and Terry McAuliffe put back on the voter rolls, and what you have is a basically blue state getting even bluer.  That trend started before Trump entered the picture—although having him as president has probably accelerated the change.

In other words, what happened in Virginia does mean something.  But it doesn’t mean everything, in spite of what the Democrats would have you believe.

THE REPUBLICANS

There isn’t much positive to say about the GOP here.  While it’s true that Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure, he’s not the only one responsible for the drubbing that happened on Tuesday night.  The GOP itself has sunk to levels of disapproval that would make Kevin Spacey wince—except they can’t make a dash into rehab to pretend that they’re working on their problems.

How did this happen?  Simple.  Voters gave them the House, then the Senate, and then the White House in the hopes that the GOP would actually fulfill its promises it had been making for seven years to roll back the Obama agenda.  Instead, they got plenty of nuthin’ as the GOP Senate failed to deliver.  Balking on Obamacare was the last straw, which led voters to ask why they should bother giving Republicans a majority when they refused to do anything with it.

On the other hand, at least the GOP now has a clear message from its base:  get to work or be out of a job.  There’s still a full year before the 2018 midterms—lots of time to develop a clear agenda and then push it through.  Tax reform is already in the works, so they can start there.  Then they can actually show that they’re serious about meaningful immigration reform with national e-Verify and funding the border wall.  Get some of the Big Ticket items under their belts and demonstrate that Republicans are ready to seize the opportunity that the voters have given them and effect some real change.

Otherwise, jilted voters will treat them like jilted lovers always do—and it will get ugly.