This morning I wrote, “if Ed Gillespie loses, some Republicans will want to blame Trump, and he’ll deserve a share of the blame, but it’s a pretty limited share.” That assertion may need revision, with not merely Gillespie and the rest of the statewide ticket losing, but the Republicans in the Virginia state legislature getting demolished. At this hour, Republicans are in danger of losing control of the House of Delegates, where they entered Election Day with a seemingly comfortable 17-seat margin.
Corey Stewart and the Trump-ified faction of the Virginia GOP will insist tonight’s dismal defeat stems from Gillespie’s alleged Establishment squishiness, while northern Virginia Republicans will argue it’s because Gillespie sounded Trump-like with his hard-edged focus and ads on illegal immigration and crime. They may both have a point, as Gillespie’s getting the worst of both worlds: The margins in red rural counties are about the same as 2016, but the turnout is “meh” and Republicans are just getting crushed in the suburbs. It’s not just the ones closest to Washington, D.C.; Northam is beating Gillespie by about a 20-point margin in Loudon and Prince William Counties.
But the key lesson of the night goes far beyond Gillespie. Right now, the Republican party’s brand in Virginia is dirt. Throw in the failure to make New Jersey even remotely competitive, and tonight is about as bad as it can get for the GOP – a sense of déjà vu from the results across the country 2006 and 2008.
Democrats are, no doubt, energized by their daily outrages of the Trump era. Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration should feel slapped in the face, and even more pressure to accomplish as much as possible between now and Election Day 2018.