Tuesday was a bad day for Republicans. While Republican candidates in multiple states were feeling the pain of a wave election against them, Virginia was the highlight. Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor and Democratic candidate for Governor dealt a decisive defeat to Republican Ed Gillespie.
Three theories have emerged to describe why the Virginia governor’s race went the way that it did. Only one jives with down ballot results across the state and the results around the country.
Theory 1: Virginia is moving left
Virginia was a fairly solid Republican state in the early 2000s. Since the 2004 election it has moved solidly to the left. No one can deny this, BUT that does not mean it explains the result. Just one year ago, Donald Trump lost Virginia by five points and forty-four percent of the vote.
Gillespie improved slightly to forty-five percent but lost by nine points. Virginia did not get almost ten points more democratic in a year.
This massive increase in Democratic support combined with exit polls showing voters being motivated to snub Trump was twice as influential as voters being motivated to support Trump made clear the mood of the electorate. Almost a third of voters said one of the reasons they voted for Northam was to show opposition to Trump. Forces to the left of the Republican party have become unified since 2016 in opposition to Trump.
Theory 2: Gillespie was not Trumpy enough
Gillespie clearly ran a campaign designed to appeal to Trump voters. If anything, that hurt him and doubling down on it would only hurt him more. The same exit polls show Trump’s approval rating in Virginia at forty-percent.
But, for the sake of argument, let us assume the exit polls do not exist or are wrong. Republicans came into the night with a sixteen seat majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrats won at least fifteen of those seats. Democrats also saw success in other states like Washington, Republicans lost control of the State Senate, and Georgia, Democrats picked up three seats in the state legislature.
Oh, and the four special congressional elections Trump cited to counter? Those were fairly Republican districts that had competitive elections. Not exactly a big win for the pro-Trump narrative.
Theory 3: Trumpism itself
The third theory is the theory I believe it is right. This theory purports that the primary reason Gillespie lost, down ballot Republicans in Virginia lost and other Republicans across the country lose, for the most part, was in response to Trump. A President with low favorability and an electrified opposition is the making of a wave. This theory is supported by the cross ballot and state results along with all the evidence above to rebut theory one and two.
While living and bliss may make the next year easier, history makes clear the party in power almost always loses midterm elections. That party being lead by the most unpopular President in modern history will only have to face larger obstacles to maintain power.
Trumpists are under the impression that 2016 was not a repudiation of Hillary Clinton but rather an endorsement of Trump. Election day 2017 made clear that was wrong. Trump is not popular nor his agenda wanted. 2016 was Americans rejecting Clinton, not accepting Trump. If Republicans keep their heads in the sand to satisfy Trump and the Trumpist base, 2018 will look like the Democratic version of 2010.