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Has Trumpism lost its luster?

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As Trumpism has come to define the Republican Party, it has forced Republicans running for office and reelection into a precarious position. Candidates must now balance not completely turning away from the president, who still has high approvals with registered Republicans, while trying not to turn off voters who are offended by the very idea of him being in the White House. That’s exactly what Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, attempted to do, but it wasn’t enough to win in a state where the landscape is becoming ever more diverse.

After the primary, Gillespie did everything he could to align himself with many of Donald Trump’s positions, from sanctuary cities to the idea of law and order, and even running ads accusing his opponent of being weak on immigration, thus leading to an increase in the threat of the violent gang MS-13. He moved so far right that some Republicans such as Evan McMullin, the former Republican presidential candidate and co-founder of Stand Up Republic tweeted, “@EdWGillespie was one of the good guys, but now he peddles fear and white nationalism. It’s better for VA and America that he not prevail.”

{mosads}Others lamented about the problems that arise merely from Trump’s divisive rhetoric and the long-term impact it could have on the Republican Party. Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard, tweeted, “Re the GOP: I’m all for fresh conservative ideas, openness to a new center, good young Republican candidates, etc. (I’m even involved in some efforts along these lines.) But until conservatives and Republicans confront the problem of Trump, I suspect nothing else gets traction.”

Gillespie started off running as the quintessential establishment Republican. Though it appeared to be a strategy that was paying off, it was costly. He ended up winning by only 1.24 points in the primary, barely defeating Trump clone Corey Stewart. After the win, Gillespie made a hard turn to the right, necessary if he was to remain competitive in the race and mobilize voters in hardcore red districts, but he did so at the risk of isolating college educated Republicans and suburban Independents who may have been open to his more traditional brand of conservatism on display during the primary.

While Gillespie’s shift to the right by focusing on issues and conjuring themes that excite voters who voted for Trump, it isolated many and likely encouraged Democrats and even some Independents to come out against Gillespie as a repudiation of the president. Trump’s brand of politics works in certain places, but it didn’t work in Virginia, which is a state that is changing from a purple state to a blue state, making it increasingly more difficult for Republicans to compete statewide.

While Virginia was on full display, Democrats also made waves in other places that are far lesser known, but that could reveal a lot about midterms in 2018. Democrats won Georgia State House Seats 117 and 119, two little known seats that could provide a glimpse of what is to come. What is interesting about District 117 is that Mitt Romney won it by 11 points in 2012. Though Trump fared much worse here in 2016, he still won.

Both districts were long held by conservatives and were considered conservative strongholds, so much so that Democrats haven’t bothered to contest either district since the redistricting lines were redrawn in 2012. With the right kind of candidate, the victories in Georgia Districts 117 and 119 prove Democrats can win and could motivate them to challenge more long held conservative strongholds across the country.

The impact of Trumpism and the role it will have on Republicans running in 2018 is still a bit murky, but what is clear from the recent results is that Republicans will have a very difficult time straddling the line of embracing Trumpism and more traditional conservatism, all while trying not to turn off voters. They do so at the risk of further emboldening Democrats and turning out voters merely because they dislike Trump.

Democrats have the ability to pull together a diverse coalition. While they struggled with rural and less educated voters, which has been a problem as of late, Democrats had strong numbers with college educated whites, Hispanics, and African Americans. Trump’s brand of politics could cost Republicans in states and districts around the country where it matters. While it seems unlikely that Democrats will flip the House, I remain careful in my analysis because anything is possible in the age of Trump.

Hillary Clinton is no longer on the ballot, so voters who stayed home because of their dislike of her will likely be out in full display in 2018. This should concern Republicans because a year of not accomplishing anything, along with the divisive and marginalizing rhetoric of the president, has occurred on their watch. Trumpism may have worked during the 2016 election, but the jury is still out on whether or not it’s enough to keep Republicans out of trouble in 2018.

Shermichael Singleton is a CNN political commentator and a Republican political strategist who has worked on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Ben Carson. Follow him on Twitter @Shermichael_.

Tags Ben Carson campaign Congress Corey Stewart Democrats Donald Trump Ed Gillespie Elections Georgia Hillary Clinton Politics Republicans Virginia

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