Listen, Tuesday night did not go well for Republicans.
Ed Gillespie’s defeat in Virginia at the hands of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was an unmitigated disaster and was, without question, a referendum on Donald Trump. Here’s what Northam told supporters:
Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry — and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.
As soon as it became clear that Gillespie was finished, Trump did exactly what you would expect Trump to do: he threw Ed under the bus.
That tweet is important.
For one thing, it serves as a rather poignant reminder both to Republicans and potentially to those ensnared in the Mueller probe that while Trump demands loyalty from those around him, it will not be reciprocated when push comes to shove. Here’s what Trump tweeted before the votes were counted:
Note to Republicans and also to Michael Flynn: Donald Trump will abandon you in a heartbeat without so much as a second thought. And not only that, he’ll put you on blast in front of 41 million Twitter followers in real-time in your darkest hour, effectively rubbing salt in your wounds from a presidential megaphone.
In addition to that, Trump’s Tuesday night tweet (delivered, by the way, in the minutes before a speech in South Korea) is a lie – and on multiple levels. Gillespie did embrace Trumpism. Consider this xenophobic ad, shamelessly designed to play on voters’ fears and prejudices:
Not only is that entirely consistent with Trump’s message, it looks like it walked right out of a Geert Wilders rally in the Netherlands. Indeed, Trump sent out a robo-call to voters that echoed that ad on Monday and Tuesday night. Here’s what he said:
Hello, this is President Donald Trump, and so importantly I need you to vote for Ed Gillespie to be your new governor of Virginia. If you let Ralph Northam be governor, he will be a total disaster for your state. Northam is weak on crime, weak on immigration, and as your lieutenant governor, Northam has driven your economy right into a ditch, and he didn’t even show up to the most important meetings. He was always missing and nowhere to be found.
Like me, Ed is tough on crime and on the border. Ed will protect your family from crime, drugs and violence — something Northam will never do. And Ed loves the vets, loves the military, and loves your Second Amendment. With your help, Ed Gillespie will help make America great again, a phrase that I like a lot. Vote Ed Gillespie.
It’s bullshit. Blatant race-baiting, hyperbolic claims about the economy, and the suggestion that Northam would put families at risk from “crime, drugs and violence.”
And guess what? It backfired. Consider these voter testimonials as documented by The Intercept:
Chris White, a Virginia resident who came to vote with his family, said he was unhappy with Gillespie’s negative advertisements, and cast his vote for the Democrat Ralph Northam. “They were typical, wanted to placate to the lowest common denominator, fear, really,” said White. “On some level, they work,” he added, shrugging.
Catherine Hazimi said she thought the sanctuary city ads were “incredibly misleading.” After seeing a cascade of Gillespie advertising, she said she looked up the issue and found that Virginia had no sanctuary cities.
“You can’t turn on the TV without seeing a negative ad,” Hazimi said. The local media, with the exception of the Washington Post, she added, provided little context for voters. “They just want to do a numbers race,” she said, referencing local media’s obsession with publishing polls.
George Chavis said although he has become more conservative with age, he voted Democratic because he was concerned primarily with the state of the criminal justice and the system of bail, which he called “profoundly unjust.” The Gillespie ads, he added, were designed to pander to a conservative base but he found them to be “detrimental.”
“It’s just another sign of division. MS-13 gangs have always been an issue. They’ve always been around. Its just political propaganda,” said A.J., another voter who came to vote with his family.
Bruce Brown, a member of the Alexandria Young Republicans, said that he thought that the Republican campaign ads focusing on sanctuary cities and MS-13 “were terrible, they were stupid.”
Yes, “terrible and stupid” – Republican voters are now waking up the reality of Trump’s nationalism. It’s based on a divisiveness and fear and, at heart, on a message about white superiority.
“I do believe that this is a referendum on this administration,” Representative Scott Taylor, a Republican from Virginia Beach told the New York Times last night, adding that “Democrats turned out tonight, but I’m pretty sure there were some Republicans who spoke loudly and clearly tonight as well.”
“I know folks that lost tonight who were going against candidates I’d never even heard of,” Taylor went on to say, driving home the point.
The Times goes on to detail how Gillespie was effectively forced to adopt Trump’s platform. To wit:
The Democrats’ success here came as Mr. Gillespie, trailing in the polls, turned to a scorched-earth campaign against Mr. Northam in the race’s final weeks. Mr. Gillespie, a fixture of his party’s establishment who had once warned against the “siren song” of anti-immigrant politics, unleashed a multimillion-dollar onslaught linking his rival to a gang with Central American ties and a convicted pedophile who had his rights restored, while also assailing Mr. Northam for wanting to remove Virginia’s Confederate statues.
In his concession speech, Gillespie did not utter Trump’s name. That reflects the tightrope Ed attempted (ultimately unsuccessfully) to walk during the campaign – how to tap into the sentiment that won Trump the White House without directly associating himself with a message that everyone knows is inherently toxic.
As the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri sarcastically writes, maybe Trump is right – maybe Gillespie didn’t go “full-Trump” (as it were):
He forgot that there is more to Trump than just racism: There is also corruption and incompetence.
He did the first part just fine. His MS-13 commercials were exactly the sort of nightmarish dog-horn that is Trump’s specialty. But he forgot: That is not all that “Trumpism” is. Otherwise we would not need a special new -ism for it and could just say “racism.”
No, Gillespie barely even tried. Where was the paranoia? Where were the unhinged rants about wiretapping? Where were the attacks on the legitimacy of the free press? There was, naturally, some gleeful disregard for fact, and those lines about sanctuary cities were Trump-ish, but there could have been much more. Just to show he was trying. Where were the conspiracy theories? Where was Alex Jones?
Yes, “where was Alex Jones?” And that jab reminds me, also on Tuesday night, Danica Roem, a transgender woman, ousted Republican Del. Bob Marshall from the Virginia House of Delegates on the way to becoming the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state legislature.
Marshall had sponsored a bill this year that would have restricted the bathrooms transgender people can use. Here was my immediate knee-jerk reaction, employing a clip from a recent InfoWars diatribe about transgender politics:
And of course it wasn’t all about Gillespie and Roem.
Democrats also won the governorship of New Jersey away from Republicans, rolled up two statewide offices in Virginia, and scored a victory in a New Hampshire mayoral race.
Finally, for the punchline: as New York Magazine reports, Ed Gillespie’s staff changed his birthday on Twitter in order to trigger the balloon feature in anticipation of a win:
Not to “take the air out” or anything but…