Opinion

Deliverance for the Democrats

One year into the Trump era, voters handed Democrats big wins, signaling trouble for the GOP

Last night, in the first major electoral test since President Trump's fluke victory almost one year ago to the day, Democrats sent a powerful, unmistakable message to America's reeling, incoherent president and his Republican congressional allies: Your agenda is toxic, your leader is a detested albatross, and both will be repudiated every year, in every election, in every district, and every state until you're out of power.

All the king's miscapitalized tweets and all the king's desperate race-baiting tactics were not enough to deliver a single meaningful victory to the GOP. The sound you heard last night was the Trump tide receding rapidly back into the ocean and washing scores of Republican legislators out to sea with it.

They were warned. And they will not be missed.

Just a few hours before the returns rolled in, uncertainty reigned across the political spectrum as partisans overreacted to every turnout anecdote and exit poll. Conservatives optimistically believed they had closed the gap in Virginia and that President Trump's ugly, divisive politics could deliver a win in a critical bellwether state, blunting the Democratic momentum seen in special elections over the past 10 months that had nevertheless not yet yielded a major win. Political junkies on the left settled in for a nervous night of nattering and return-watching, fighting PTSD from the year-ago Black Tuesday that delivered the White House to Trump and Congress to the GOP. They didn't have to wait long for deliverance.

In an unusually nationalized off-year election, Democrat Ralph Northam scored an early and decisive 9 point victory over his Republican challenger Ed Gillespie for the Virginia governorship, despite the latter's lurid final-month binge of anti-Latino ads and his shameless capitulation to the dark forces of President Trump's white nationalism. Virginia's voters decided they cared more about how they were choking on the acrid smell of democracy burning over the Potomac in D.C. than they did about the confederate monuments Gillespie so faux-gallantly defended.

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy performed the expected trouncing of doomed Republican Kim Guadagno, who also made the fateful decision to climb down into the cesspool of MS-13 fearmongering and sanctuary city hysteria, in a race she never had a chance of winning anyway thanks to outgoing Republican governor Chris Christie's extreme unpopularity. She became the latest politician to learn the signature lesson of the Trump era: Sacrificing your dignity and your principles for the sake of this president will only end with your public humiliation. At least she didn't have to stay up late to learn her fate.

Northam blew out his polling projections by 6 points, and Murphy did about as well as forecasters expected. Their wins — along with enormous Democratic gains in the Virginia legislature — are among the most encouraging factors of the night for Democrats, who watched Republicans cruise past their final polling averages in 2014 and 2016. Not this time. Last night it was Democrats who were pleasantly surprised.

Beyond the topline races, Democrats scored victory after victory across the board. In Virginia, as of this writing, Democrats threatened to capture at least 14 of the 17 seats necessary to take back the state's House of Delegates, an outcome that seemed unthinkable even a week ago thanks to the heavy-handed 2010 Republican gerrymander. Virginia also elected the state's first openly trans legislator to office, sent an African-American lieutenant governor to Richmond, and elected a gun control activist — the boyfriend of a journalist who was murdered on live TV — to the legislature. A coalition of the demonized.

Maine expanded Medicaid. Two long-held seats in the Georgia legislature flipped from red to blue. New Jersey elected a Sikh mayor. Philadelphia sent a public defender to the District Attorney's office. In Washington state, Democrats completed their takeover of the state government. Squint at the big electoral board all you want and you won't find much solace for Republicans other than that this wasn't 2018. Yet. Last night was the night Democrats thought they should have had a year ago, a diverse coalition of center-left Democrats and progressive firebrands sweeping to victory after victory. They reminded their supporters that the America they still want to love and believe in is not, in fact, dead.

The very simple lesson from last night is this: Political gravity is real, and it is spectacular. For those who worried that the Trump coalition had ushered in some kind of realignment or a permanent increase in the white share of the vote, Election Night 2017 was a splash of cold water. It turns out that when the president is an incompetent malefactor sporting an approval rating in the mid-30s, he destroys his party's chances in local, state, and national elections and drags everyone down with him.

Look for fewer and fewer elected Republicans to embrace this president in the weeks and months to come. Americans are beginning to come to terms with the things they lost in the hate-inferno Trump lit last year. And they want them back.

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