The gubernatorial election in Virginia is over. A week before the disaster occurred, the polls had tightened, with some showing Republican Ed Gillespie not only edging but leaping ahead of Democrat Ralph Northam. By election day, the RealClearPolitics average showed the Northam with around a three-point lead, well within the range of toss-up status, but close enough to lead me to believe that Gillespie would lose by about that margin, much as Ken Cuccinelli had (by 2.5 percent) to the reptilian Terry McAuliffe four years ago.
Is it a sign of the times to say that my private conviction that the Republicans would lose was starry-eyed optimism? Gillespie lost, all right, but by a whopping margin of nine percent, with Northam leading a sweep of the major state offices of lieutenant governor and attorney general. The House of Delegates races saw a Republican advantage of seventeen seats wiped out. As of this hour, the Democrats hold a forty-nine to a forty-eight edge, with three seats still uncalled. The Republicans lead in all three but by the thinnest of margins, and even if they win all three, they will have witnessed a net loss of fifteen seats.
Anyone who has followed politics over the years will know that there is nothing unusual about a sitting president seeing his party lose, sometimes spectacularly, in off-year elections. But the Virginia election was eccentric since it’s one of those states that elect their governors in the odd year when congressional candidates are not on the ballot. As a result, the Virginia election, as in similar states, is liable to see a relatively small turnout, particularly for such an important office.
Not so this year. According to the Washington Post, eligible voters who actually bothered to go to the polls rose close to five percent over 2013 (itself an increase over 2009), with the largest increase in solidly Democrat northern Virginia where Northam trounced Gillespie by 260,000 votes.
The reason? The Democrats have no doubt about it: Donald Trump. Their voters, they claim, were “energized” to go to the polls and cast a protest vote against the president they love to hate. As for the Republicans’ take on the “tidal wave” that swamped them, it was as sober as one would expect from boxer rising from the mat after the count of ten—except at FoxNews.
Punch-drunk or just plain drunk on the Kickapoo joy-juice of Trumpism, the “Fox and Friends” panel of experts, Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, and Ainsley Earhardt, saw the loss as evidence that Ed Gillespie had not “embraced” Trump. Funny choice of words, that, especially considering that the president himself, as the inevitable result of the election became clear, had earlier Tweeted from overseas, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.” Evidently, further assessment of what the party had done wrong was unnecessary; future Republican candidates had better “jump on the bandwagon” (Earhardt’s words).
As for the phase “and what I stand for,” which Trump so graciously added, I’ll give him this much: he managed to hint that behind the behemoth that is Himself there are actually some principles and policies. But let’s face it: what Trump stands for beyond the garnering accolades from the press and packing adoring fans into large arenas to hear him and him alone is a mystery or, worse, a void, the blackest of black holes.
Democrats see things differently, and their vision is now a matter of public record, courtesy of the Virginia Department of Elections. They may be foolish enough to think Trump is the reincarnation of Mussolini, but they turned out in droves to vote, not because they loved Ralph Northam, a rather dull candidate by many estimates, but because they hated Donald Trump. And in a state that Trump lost one year ago by five percentage points, that’s a sure recipe for a Democrat landslide. For those voters, the difference between Hillary 2016 and Ralph 2017 is that Trump has pumped just enough substance into their nightmares to scare the hell out of them—a week after Halloween.
As usual, Trump didn’t see it that way, but seeing is not his strength. No, as his small but ever-loyal band of supporters will tell you, Trump is, like Conrad’s Kurtz, a voice: he “tells it like it is.” If you spend any amount of time around a Trumpomaniac, you’ll hear that. How’s one to respond? My first response is that in order to identify things as they are (the “like it is” part), one must understand the reality behind them; one must define, collect evidence, marshall arguments, draw clear, predictable conclusions, and choose words with care. That means doing quite a lot of homework to find out what “is” before one starts telling others about it. Nothing he’s done so far indicates Trump, instant gratification personified, is up to that kind of work.
My second response? The last time I heard people crow about a president who “tells it like it is,” they were talking about Richard Nixon. I don’t think we want to re-live that disaster, not on Halloween, not anytime.