A number of major elections were held across the country last Tuesday and all Republicans have to show for it is a congressional seat in Utah that they’ve safely held for twenty years. With losses in Washington, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia, it was certainly not a good night for the GOP.
Pundits and elites have especially tried to tie the success of the Virginia gubernatorial race to fate of the parties in the 2018 midterm. And if we allow this assumption, that Virginia is a window into next November, things certainly look bleak. Democratic Governor-Elect Ralph Northam outperformed the polls, Democrats made unexpectedly large gains in the state house, and voters who considered President Trump in their choice overwhelmingly voted against his policies and for Northam.
The notion that Virginia portends a national repudiation of President Trump is certainly arousing. But the idea that it spells doom for future Republican contests needs to be qualified. First off, Trump-esque populism may have lost in Virginia, but it didn’t win there in 2016 either. Second, Virginia may be a swing state but it has tended to swing more leftward than not over the last two decades. Frankly, this is a race Democrats should have won and that they needed to win to signal their general electoral viability. It’s a necessary precursor to a 2018 wave, but it itself is not sufficient.
Now it is true that Democrats have a lot going in their favor. They’re polling well on generic congressional ballots, President Trump is deeply unpopular, and they’ve been doing better than expected in these post-2016 elections (even in those that they’ve lost). All that can’t be downplayed and I expect that it will translate into decent electoral gains in the House (the Senate is a taller order). But there’s a lot that needs to happen for those gains to compound into a wave. Things that Virginia can’t itself signify one way or another.
Do the wins notched last night signal that a wave may come? Absolutely. Do they guarantee that it definitely will? Absolutely not. Republicans should be concerned, but we ought to hold off on planning the funeral.