Republicans are realizing they are in huge trouble as they see the numbers come in from Tuesday’s elections, showing a Democratic rout of the key races.
Not only did they lose two governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey, they lost every other statewide election in both and nearly lost control of the Virginia legislature where they had previously held a 2:1 advantage.
The biggest race of the night was Democrat Ralph Northam defeating Republican Ed Gillespie by a whopping nine points after polls showed a tightening race in the final days.
That Gillespie lost is not that big a surprise but the way in which he lost has Republicans panicked as they head into a midterm elections year.
Gillespie, like many of the Republicans in Congress, is a lifelong Washington DC establishment guy. A swamp creature, as the Trumpkins would say. He previously worked as the chairman of the Republican National Committee and for President George W. Bush. He later became a lobbyist before running several times for office, unsuccessfully.
Despite being a polar opposite of what Trump represents, Gillespie was forced to embrace some of the grosser parts of modern Republicanism to appeal to conservative voters in the commonwealth. Gillespie decried the attacks on Confederate monuments and lambasted sanctuary cities while playing up the threat of MS-13.
While he may have successfully reached the Trump voters, the anti-Trump backlash in his general election loss was palpable, particularly in the DC and Richmond suburbs. In the DC suburbs of Loudoun County, for example, he lost by a whopping 20 points.
According to the exit polls, nearly 60 percent of Virginia voters disapproved of Trump and half said that the president was a major factor in their vote. Twice as many people said they voted in opposition to the president than said they voted in support of Trump.
And therein lies the trouble for Republicans. On the one hand, they are forced to embrace Trump to win their primaries because the president remains popular among the GOP base. But the GOP base is a small sliver of the electorate and the Trump stench can be toxic in a general election.
What we are instead seeing from the Ed Gillespie-types in Congress, the Republicans that have been in DC so long they basically run the place, is that they don’t want any of it. Many Republicans that have long made up the “governing wing” of the party are retiring rather than run for reelection in this climate.
On Tuesday, New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement, joining Washington Rep. Dave Eichert, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Michigan Rep. Dave Trott as, CNN’s Chris Cillizza puts it, “members of the pragmatic wing of the GOP — all of whom represent seats that will be Democratic pickup targets — calling it quits in advance of the 2018 election.”
“More open seats make for a more volatile political environment for Republicans,” Cillizza writes. “And the more open seats for Democrats to target, the better chance they have at making a very serious run at regaining their House majority next November. And the possibility of going from the majority to the minority come 2019 will be a major disincentive for Republicans pondering their political futures.”
“In short: Panic builds on itself. It snowballs,” he added. “Waking up Wednesday morning, Republicans are being smacked in the face with the reality of a Trump presidency: He is a man beloved by their base and disliked almost everywhere else. That’s a massive political problem without an easy or obvious solution.”