President Donald Trump is using his newly acquired 280 characters on Twitter to give live analysis of the Virginia state election: Republicans lost because they didn’t embrace him enough, the president tweeted.
Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 8, 2017
Democrats swept the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday with a big win from Ralph Northam, and are on track to take over the Virginia House of Delegates — what polls suggested would be close to impossible. It’s a significant loss for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, who was within a 2-point margin in the polls leading up Election Day.
Trump’s analysis was simple: If Gillespie had only been closer to Trump and his message, he could have won the race.
Ironically, the leading narrative about Gillespie was his embrace of the law-and-order, culture war-drumming campaign message core to Trump’s agenda. If Gillespie had managed to win, said Democratic strategist Joshua Ulibarri, with Lake Research Partners, the race would mean that Trumpian “divisive race-based politics can be translated to the state level, and for candidates who aren’t for Trump.”
Even Steve Bannon, the former Trump White House chief strategist who has now made it his mission to tear down the GOP establishment and replace it with a Trumpier one, touted the success of Gillespie’s closeness to the Trump agenda.
“He’s closed an enthusiasm gap by rallying around the Trump agenda,” Bannon told the New York Times. “And I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that, in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward. If that’s the case, Democrats better be very, very worried.”
Not so much on Tuesday. The results showed that Democrats in Virginia, who turned out to win the state for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, are motivated to out-vote the Trump message, whether delivered by Trump himself or an attempted surrogate.
Meanwhile, Trump is holding on to the four special election victories Republicans enjoyed earlier this year, to replace his Cabinet members’ conservative congressional seats. But unlike those special elections, Tuesday’s Virginia race was a stronger litmus test of how a swing state could play out for Democrats. (To be clear, there were five special elections. Democrats easily won the House race to replace Xavier Becerra who was appointed after California Sen. Kamala Harris was sworn in.)
It’s an optimistic sign for the Democratic Party heading into 2018 midterm elections, where the Democrats hope to regain the majority in the House. As Jeff Stein wrote for Vox, Democrats have traditionally struggled to get out their voters in non-presidential elections. But Northam’s victory “suggests that the liberal base may be more eager to turn out for down-ballot races with Donald Trump in the White House than it had been with Barack Obama in office.”