- Tuesday’s state and local elections yielded big wins for Democrats and potentially exposed the weak points in President Donald Trump’s movement. Democrats had suffered embarrassing losses in congressional elections since Trump took office, despite vocal support for their causes on social media and in massive protests. While the Democratic Party has big problems with its leadership and direction, Tuesday may have shown a blueprint for how the anti-Trump resistance can win ground.
One year after major media outlets and forecasters gave Donald Trump only a slim chance of winning the presidency against Hillary Clinton, cracks have begun to show in the movement that ushered Trump into office.
New Jersey and Virginia picked Democratic governors on Tuesday, with Virginia’s losing Republican candidate getting roasted on all sides for his failed embrace of Trumpism. Among Virginia’s newly elected leaders are women, people of color, and the state’s first transgender legislator.
Democrats turn the tables
Tuesday’s elections were seen as key for Democrats after a string of defeats. Even as Democrats galvanized against the president on social media and in massive protests across the country, a series of special elections earlier this year had delivered a brutal, embarrassing blow to Trump’s opponents.
In Georgia, the political neophyte Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel in the most heavily funded congressional race in US history, one the news media framed to national audiences as a referendum on Trump.
In Montana, Greg Gianforte defeated his Democratic challenger, Rob Quist, even after admitting to assaulting a reporter on the campaign trail at a time when Trump was being criticized for his vocal attacks on the press.
South Carolina, Utah, and Kansas reelected Republicans with little fanfare.
Of all the congressional elections in 2017, only the Democratic stronghold of California produced a winner for the blue party.
- Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
But on Tuesday night, one day short of a year since Trump’s 2016 stunner, the tide began to turn on Trumpism.
Though Trump lost Virginia in the general election, he had campaigned for Ed Gillespie, the Republican challenger to Democrat Ralph Northam. But Trump’s support followed up on perhaps the darkest chapter of his presidency – his failure to condemn the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a young woman died when a driver steered a car into a crowd of counterprotesters.
While the political left has no shortage of outrages stemming from the Trump administration, Trump’s refusal to explicitly condemn the white nationalists marching in Charlottesville turned stomachs on both sides of the isle. Trump explicitly promoted Gillespie as a defender of Confederate statues, the issue that prompted the ultra-right-wing rally in Charlottesville.
Tuesday’s election results show that Trump’s movement may have gone too far in defending Confederate heritage even in a Southern state that’s 70% white.
Democrats in shambles nationally but gaining traction locally
- Thomson Reuters
Looking ahead to 2018, when a much wider band of political contests opens up for the control of the House and the Senate, Dave Wasserman, a polling expert who edits the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, tweeted: “You can’t really look at tonight’s results and conclude that Democrats are anything other than the current favorites to pick up the U.S. House in 2018.”
Retaking the House would remain a steep task, however, with Trump and Republicans retaining a consolidated grip on power nationally.
Trump has capitalized on infighting among the Democratic leadership, with the former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile recently accusing Clinton of unethically skewing the party’s primary against her opponent Bernie Sanders. At the same time, young Democratic voters lean further left and reject the old guard’s centrism, and a CNN poll released this week found that public favorability toward Democrats had fallen to its lowest point in more than 25 years, at just 37% (though that beat Republicans’ 30% in the same poll).
But Democrats have until 2020 to work out a direct challenger to Trump, and in the meantime, Tuesday showed promise for a movement that could perhaps unseat Senate, House, state, and local Republicans and exploit the cracks in Trumpism.