Democrats would love to believe that their success in Tuesday’s elections reflects a turn in the momentum against the Trumpified Republican Party, but the Trumpies see it exactly the other way.
They are blaming Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie for his 54-45 percent loss to Democrat Ralph Northam, and they are blaming Gillespie for not being Trumpy enough. As a Daily Beast piece this morning put it:
Shortly after the loss, President Donald Trump and his top allies began spinning the result as the result of Gillespie being insufficiently obedient to and appreciative of the Trump agenda.
Laura Ingraham, the Trump-adoring cable news host, accused Gillespie of playing “footsie with conservative populism” without fully embracing it. Breitbart called him a “Republican swamp thing.” A staffer for Corey Stewart, the conservative candidate who barely lost to Gillespie in the GOP primary, told Fox News that, “Gillespie didn’t speak to populist issues early enough in the campaign.”
In the coup-de-grace, Trump himself said Gillespie “worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for” just hours after he recorded an election-day robocall for the candidate and tweeted his support for his campaign.
Maybe they’re right but I doubt it, and it sounds like part of Trump’s self-obsession and the Trump obsession shared by his biggest backers.
The angry Trumpies don’t mention that Trump himself lost Virginia last year. Republicans have won only one out of the last five gubernatorial elections in Virginia. Virginia Republicans nominated Gillespie in a primary over a much Trumpier alternative, Corey Stewart, who had chaired Trump’s unsuccessful campaign in Virginia last year. So I guess that sets up the Trumpier Virginia Republicans to believe that if their guy had been the nominee, he would have won. Because why exactly?
To believe that Stewart would’ve done better against Northam, you have to believe one thing and ignore another. The thing you have to believe is that a lot of Virginia Trump supporters decided not to vote because Gillespie wasn’t Trumpy enough. The thing you have to ignore is that there are moderates, even moderate Republicans in Virginia (and every other state) that dislike Trump and might have been willing to support a mainstream Republican like Gillespie, but would have voted for the Democrat or not voted at all if the Republicans had nominated a strong Trump supporter like Stewart.
I’m sure there are people in both of these categories. I don’t claim to know which category is bigger. The Trumpies, including Laura Ingraham as quoted above, claim to know, and what they claim to know is self-serving and unprovable.
Gillespie actually went many steps down the road toward pandering to Trump supporters. He ran against immigrants as a threat to public safety. He made noises about the importance of leaving up monuments to Confederate heroes.
Maybe he could have embraced Trump more closely. Maybe he couldn’t stand to do so because he despises Trump and what Trump has done to his beloved GOP. (Did I mention that Gillespie was a former RNC chair and a big backer of George W. Bush? Bush has made little secret of his dislike of the Trump takeover of the party. It’s easy to believe that Gillespie shares that view.) Maybe Gillespie kept his Trumpiness level down because he believed it would drive moderate voters to vote Democratic or stay home.
Perhaps this is slightly analogous to the argument made by some Bernie Sanders supporters that the Democrats would have won last fall if they had nominated Sanders – who might have excited some lefties to vote, but might have scared away some moderates — instead of Hillary Clinton, who probably did the opposite.
It’s possible, although it’s hard to remember, that not everything is about Trump. The Democrats nominated a particularly cheerful, likable, even somewhat grandfatherly gubernatorial candidate, in a state that has been trending bluer for several cycles. He won by a solid nine-point margin, bigger than the five points by which Clinton beat Trump in Virginia last year. Get over it.