Wake up, Republicans, touting Trumpism is a losing strategy

Wake up, Republicans, touting Trumpism is a losing strategy
© Greg Nash

To properly understand the Virginia election results, let's immediately look at what President Donald J. Trump tweeted after the returns came in and showed the Democrat, Ralph Northam, winning by an overwhelming margin:  

"Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for."


Trump is correct on the first point. Gillespie refused to allow Trump to campaign in the state, but he fervently embraced Trump's positions on immigration, race and crime. Gillespie was definitely Trump without Trump.


Democrats and independent voters in Virginia came out in droves to show the country that they wanted to send a message, and the message was clear and direct: "We don't want a Trump clone."

No one knows the state's electorate (or, for that matter, the nation’s political soul) better than former Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis. In an interview, he said to me with absolute certitude: "The Democratic base is juiced."

Everybody knew that this was true but the central question was, would the "angry base" actually come out and vote?

After the inauguration of Trump, I witnessed the largest and most intense demonstration in Washington I've ever seen. I have been here for 53 years. No march was comparable, not even the anti-war marches in the ’60s.

But what was going through my mind was, would the intense feeling grow into a movement? Was "resist" just a rallying cry with nothing to back it up?

Virginia proved that angry voters would just not march but, much more important, they would vote.

Davis, when he was in Congress, chaired the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. He speaks with authority and deep knowledge when he says, "Democrats are exceptionally energized."

Does this mean the Republicans could lose the U.S. House in 2018?

The magic number is 24.

Davis sounds worried to me. He goes out of his way to voice his hostility to Steve Bannon. He says Bannon is putting out "crazy stuff" and Republicans who emulate Bannon by "beating up our own people" are putting the GOP House majority in jeopardy.

All elections, midterms or those in presidential years, come down to "who shows up." Davis concludes by saying that the Republican Party is now in a "depressed state."

Does that mean defeat for the GOP in 2018? He says, without equivocation, that Virginia is a "warning shot."

"Unless things change," he says, that could happen.

Elections always are determined by the intensity of the voters.

Larry Roberts, who in the past advised former Virginia governor and now Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTrump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Acosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation Republican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' MORE (D-Va.), is now is a key strategist for newly elected Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. He comments that the Republican effort in Virginia was well financed but he noticed the absence of "yard signs and bumper stickers" for the GOP.

He also perceptively observed that the Republican Party had an outdated picture of the suburban voter. This area, which was in the past "reliably Republican," is "increasingly diverse" and the GOP does not recognize this demographic change, he says.

If the suburban vote continues to become more diverse and the Republican Party continues not to pay attention or acknowledge this trend, then they will pay for it.

One concluding point: The issue that Virginians most cared about (38 percent in exit polls) was health care.

The Republican Party is on the wrong side on this issue. Just look at the favorable referendum vote in Maine for expanding Medicaid.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE lost the presidential election in 2016. But the winner, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE, is now the most unpopular U.S. president in recent history. His approval rating is a dismal 38 percent. That 38 percent will definitely stay with him.

The remaining 62 percent are not just "fed up." They are actually registering their disapproval by voting against Trump in all its forms.

Allow me to go out on a limb: The next test for Trumpism is Alabama on Dec. 14. That is the special election for a U.S. Senate seat.

If Democrat Doug Jones beats Republican Roy Moore, then the revolt against Trump cannot be denied. I doubt this will happen because Alabama is Alabama.

Virginia demonstrates where this country is going and, for the Republican Party and Donald Trump, that's not good news.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. He previously worked as the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.