Last week, Virginia voters handed Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, a resounding defeat in the gubernatorial race in that state. But the unexpectedly lopsided victory of Democrat Ralph Northam over Gillespie in what was expected to be a close race—and the election for the Virginia legislature, as well as electoral results in states from Maine to Washington—amounted to a huge victory for Democrats. It also represents a broader and unmistakable message to Donald Trump and the Republican Party: We are fed up with you and your policies.
It was a great day for Democrats and a scary one for Republicans. In Virginia, Democrats won an additional dozen or so seats in the state Assembly. Pending the final outcome of a few extremely close races, Democrats may have taken over the Assembly, where the Republicans held control by a 2-1 margin before last week.
Democrats also won the New Jersey governor’s race easily and took over the Washington state legislature. Washington’s was the last state legislature on the West Coast controlled by the GOP. Democrats now boast what some are calling a “blue wall” on the left coast. They control every state from the Mexican to the Canadian border.
In Maine, voters rebuked the Republican governor, who in line with GOP policy, had vetoed Medicaid expansion twice. In a binding referendum, they voted overwhelmingly to expand the program. In effect, they overrode the governor’s veto through popular power.
The election reflected not only deep opposition to Donald Trump but also the rejection by voters of Republican stands on health care and cultural issues. Voters in Virginia told reporters and pollsters that their vote for Democrats was a rejection of Trump. Trump was an albatross around the necks of Gillespie and other Republican candidates in Virginia, a bad omen for Republicans running for Congress in 2018.
Gillespie tried to square the circle by running as a Trump man in conservative rural Virginia and as a moderate in the Washington suburbs and exurbs of northern Virginia. In line with this strategy, Gillespie did not invite Trump to campaign with him in Virginia but did accept Trump’s endorsement. It didn’t work. Voters saw through the deception. Trump, moving quickly to distance himself from a “loser,” characteristically threw Gillespie under a bus. The president tweeted from Asia that “Ed worked hard but did not embrace me…” Translation: Gillespie’s epic defeat is not a slam against me or my policies.
But in Northern Virginia, which has a surfeit of educated, cosmopolitan voters, that’s exactly what voters intended. They turned out huge for Democrats in counties with big populations like Fairfax and Arlington. Ironically, one of the subgroups of voters in this area are people who work at high levels at one of the of the many three-letter intelligence agencies clustered in greater Washington. Although there is no data on how this vote performed, it is certain that people in the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and other lesser-known spook outfits, cannot be happy with a president who has shown open contempt for the agencies and their analyses.
The Democratic win in Virginia was so sweeping that the party for the first time elected a transgendered woman to the Assembly. She defeated the author of a bill that barred transgendered people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, and who boasted of being the state’s number one homophobe.
That open appeal to prejudice did not work any better than Gillespie’s campaign commercials, which portrayed his opponent as soft on the Central American gang MS-13 and an opponent of guns. Prejudice has done wonders for the GOP since the Democrats supported the civil rights movement of the 1960s right up to the election of Donald Trump. This time, in Virginia, the voters said no.
Health care was the top issue for voters in Virginia, with guns a distant second. Since the election of 2016, Trump and the Republican Congress have tried in various ways to abolish or undercut Obamacare. GOP attacks on Obamacare, which consist mostly of lies and distortions, mask the real purpose of the crusade. Republicans want to gut health coverage for tens of millions of people to give a tax cut to the very rich. The Virginia election suggests people are starting to see through the Republican smokescreen. It turns out that diverting money from health care to cut taxes on plutocrats may be the perfect formula for losing an election.
Media accounts say Republicans on Capitol Hill are shaken. But still they persist. The two slightly different versions of Republican-style “tax reform,” the one approved in the House and another being proposed in the Senate, have in common that they generally favor the rich, especially the very, very rich with annual incomes of $1 million or more. This tiny fraction of the population would get about one quarter of the tax cuts under the Senate proposal, which nevertheless is less hurtful to the middle-class than the House version. Still, under either version, millions in the middle class will end up paying more in taxes while the superrich get the lion’s share of the bonanza. The biggest prize of all goes to the idle rich, investors who don’t work for their money but whose money works for them.
Will the GOP get away with their top-down class war once more? Or will they be the target for the kind of comeuppance they got in Virginia and across the country last week?