It wasn’t Ed Gillespie who lost the governor’s race in Virginia on Tuesday. It wasn’t Jill Vogel who lost the lieutenant governor’s race or John Adams who lost the race for state attorney general.
It was Donald Trump.
“Northam defeats Gillespie in Va., giving Democrats first key win in Trump era,’ blared the main headline on the Washington Post website.
“Trump was on the ballot in Virginia. He lost,” read the headline on Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post. “Trump thumped in Virginia – bigly,” read the headline of a Jonathan Capehart piece nearby. “Virginia shows that anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats still have a pulse,” cheered the Post’s ostensibly conservative blogger, Jen Rubin.
“Trump just made a bad night for the GOP much worse for himself,” the Post headlined an analysis piece by Philip Bump. “Republicans seek new strategy after failure of Gillespie’s ‘Trumpism without Trump.’ Read the headline on another Post piece.
“Ralph Northam’s decisive victory in the Virginia governor’s race delivers Democrats a much-needed win, a jolt of momentum heading into next year’s congressional elections and a taste or the potential energy that could be generated from President Trump’s historic unpopularity,” the Post shrieked. “Northam’s triumph – along with upset victories by Democrats over Republican incumbents in the state legislature – marks voters’ first major repudiation of the Trump administration.”
Offering no proof or polling, the Post continued: “The message from Democratic voters, who came out in droves for an off-year election, was loud and clearly aimed at the president. Even though Northam and his opponent, Ed Gillespie, sought to distance themselves from Trump during the fall campaign, voters used the opportunity to make a statement.”
Just last summer, the Post and others had a quite different take on an election that seemed to put President Trump in a powerful spot. In Georgia’s 6th congressional district, Jon Ossoff, a Democrat and political novice, ran for the seat vacated when Tom Price was named Secretary of Health and Human Services on a specifically anti-Trump platform. He got 48 percent of the vote in a jungle primary.
Karen Handel, a state office holder who was famous for getting the Komen Foundation to stop funding Planned Parenthood temporarily, picked up just 20 percent of the vote in the primary but finished second and faced Ossoff in the runoff.
Democrats dumped nearly $30 million into the race, making it the most expensive House special election ever, and used nearly all that money to try to link Handel and Trump and make the election a referendum on the president.
When it was over and Ossoff had lost by four points, the Post ran an op-ed by him. As a result of the presidential election, Americans awoke last Nov. 9 “to a startling reality: In the absence of broad, enduring citizen engagement, the door is left open for darkness to creep in and gain a foothold in our democracy.”
This was followed by several paragraphs of mush about how the district had been gerrymandered to make it nearly impossible for Republicans to win – even though Price won his last race by three points – and how Ossoff’s real goal was to build an enduring grass-roots organization to effect real change.
“Grass-roots politics, linking small-dollar fundraising to massive local volunteer organization, showed that it can rival the power of a right-wing machine comprising super PACs backed by entrenched interests and mega-donors,” wrote Ossoff, who got more than 90 percent of his funds from super PACS backed by entrenched interests and mega-donors outside Georgia.”
This wasn’t about Trump. Instead, it was “an economy-first campaign centered on local prosperity and opportunity,” Ossoff wrote.
It was a proxy war for Ossoff’s supporters against Trump, “even if the candidate shied away from making his race about the president,” wrote the New Yorker.
It was Handel, in fact, who had “avoided a major upset,” according to ABC News.
“From conversations with voters here the last few days, it was apparent to many Republicans that this race was not about Trump as much as it was about Capitol Hill. Folks here were proud to vote Republican – even the ones who said outright that they didn’t love the president.”
So when Democrats win, as they did Tuesday, it’s all Trump’s fault. But when they lose, it’s not about the president.