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Outsiders vs. Insiders: 2017’s lessons – To ‘win’ more, Republicans need to man-up and change

What happened?

No, it’s not a reference to Hillary Clinton’s recently released and universally panned book where the failed Democrat presidential candidate tried in vain to explain away how she blew an election practically everyone 2017 Electionspredicted she would win easily.

Instead it’s a legitimate question coming two days after Democrats dominated the 2017 elections. Granted gubernatorial contests were held only in two Mid-Atlantic states (New Jersey and Virginia) this year – both either solid blue or trending blue – but the results pretty much equaled a whitewash for Republicans in their first state-level test of the Donald Trump era.

Not only did Democrat candidates for governor win convincingly in both cases, by all appearances the minority party picked up enough seats in the Virginia House of Delegates to at least pull even in the chamber. When coupled with the GOP’s narrow two-seat majority in the state senate, Virginia could now be the most evenly partisan divided state in the country (with Democrats holding all the executive offices, of course).

The media narrative of the drubbing was about what you’d expect from the chattering class – voters rejected Trump; they were fed up with the Republicans’ “negative” tone; people revolted against racism… you know, standard stuff for the liberal journalism profession.

Remember, where the media is concerned Republican/Trump voters are always “angry;” Democrats, on the other hand, are shown as principled rejecters of the evil Constitution-thumping Tea Party crowd who want to starve poor children and throw granny off a cliff. The Democrat masses want their “stuff” (paid for by the rich) and when it’s seriously threatened they show up at the voting booth.

Tunneling a little deeper below the surface there is some evidence that the Democrats, at least in Virginia, pulled out all the stops to win when they had to. They went low and it doesn’t look like they’re ashamed of it either.

Charles Hurt wrote in the Washington Times, “Over the past 40 years, only once has Virginia elected a governor from the same party that won the White House the previous year. With Republican Donald Trump in the White House, Mr. Northam, nee [Jim] Crow, was all but guaranteed to win this off-year election in a walk.

“This trend has only intensified in the favor of Democrats in recent elections as the state turns bluer and bluer because of population in the swampy northern part of the state. Add to that the unique distaste for the government-bashing Mr. Trump, an outsider who is loathed by all the swamp creatures who commute into the District from Northern Virginia.

“The state, after all, is the only Southern state that did not support Mr. Trump in last year’s election. Mr. Trump lost Virginia by 5 percentage points. (Newsflash: He won anyway, thank you very much.)”

It’s true; Virginia isn’t what it used to be. In the two-plus decades I’ve resided in the commonwealth it’s moved farther and farther away from its roots in the old conservative government suspicious South. The home state of Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart is beginning to politically resemble neighboring Maryland a lot more than states below the Old Dominion.

As the federal government grows, so do the Virginia/Washington D.C. suburbs. Even in my home of Prince William County the voters kicked out long-serving principled conservative Delegate Bob Marshall in favor of what is probably the first transgender elected official in the country (at least at the state-level). Daniel “Danica” Roem won with 54 percent of the district 13 vote.

As far as I can gather Roem ran on the “all love is good” platform of a 33 year-old man who thinks he’s a woman while promising to improve the nasty traffic situation in the district (which he/she has zero jurisdiction over in the state legislature) and on an education plank (again, under the control of the local school board).

Despite Roem’s basic lack of civics comprehension the county’s residents seemed to buy his/her spiel. There is no limit to the gullibility of Democrat voters; they’d pull the lever for a blind and mute monkey as long as it wore an “I hate Trump” sign and could be prompted to raise its middle digit at the Republican elephant. Roem was able to fundraise nationally for this most local of contests, pulling in hundreds of thousands from LGBTQ groups and individuals…like a crossdresser in California cares about the traffic on Route 28?

But judging by the number of seats Democrats pulled-in statewide, it wasn’t just a transgender thing on Tuesday. This election was a sure sign that something isn’t quite right with the state Republican Party. Democrats not only portrayed poor nice guy Ed Gillespie as a child-threatening racist, they also firmly pinned the establishment label to the former lobbyist’s lapel. “Enron Ed” they called him in several TV ads.

Gillespie narrowly defeated grassroots favorite (and outwardly Trump supporting) Corey Stewart in the GOP primary earlier this year and it seems evident many conservatives didn’t take to “Enron Ed” as a replacement for a principled advocate. The state party went out of its way to make sure another dedicated conservative didn’t get on this year’s ballot (as Ken Cuccinelli did in 2013). Somewhat predictably their tactics failed in the general election.

Ralph Northam will take over for outgoing Clinton buddy Governor Terry McAuliffe in January. The former head of the Democrat National Committee is widely rumored to be considering a run for president in 2020. Carpetbagger McAuliffe likely won’t get far – he’s too closely tied to the Clintons -- but with the clueless Democrats, you never can tell.

Beyond the local matters at stake in this year’s elections it’s clear blame for the GOP’s losses also lies with the national Republican Party, and to some extent, with President Trump himself. Congress’s multiple well-reported failures to pass a promised Obamacare repeal and replace bill gave average voters little reason to choose Republicans two days ago. And Trump’s tweeting habit remains a sore spot for some who might otherwise be inclined to support his agenda.

David M. Drucker of the Washington Examiner wrote, “[I]n the near term, GOP operatives warned that the Democrats would use Virginia to pad their fundraising and convince top recruits to run join the 2018 campaign. Congressional Republicans, too, were likely to make adjustments.

“Trump until now has only been a potential threat to their re-election, as have their own legislative stumbles. Republicans won a spate of special elections to fill House vacancies earlier this year, including a few in competitive districts that Democrats spent millions to flip.

“Now those threats are very real, and Republicans could react accordingly.”

After what happened this week it’s only natural to lean towards panicking, but it’s probably too early for candidates to completely jump off the Trump bandwagon and start taking up the Gillespie-esque strategy of distancing themselves from the president in order to appeal to those in the so-called “middle” (if there is such a category any more).

While I agree it’s in the Republican Party’s own best interests to pound the healthy economic numbers it shouldn’t be forgotten many of the items on Trump’s agenda have been summarily pushed to the side by party elites who believe they can get away with waffling on immigration, tax cuts and conservative cultural issues and still win elections.

Let’s not leap off the bridge just yet – after all, this was blue-trending Virginia and bluer than blue New Jersey we’re talking about. The GOP is growing stronger in regions such as the Midwest where Trump’s agenda hits home with the citizens. Democrats and the media have turned Virginia into the modern-day battleground over confederate statues and politically correct race issues. I highly doubt the country has wholesale changed in less than a year’s time and likewise taken up the cause of those who want to erase history to appease some political constituency.

If anything, the GOP needs more Trump, not less; or should I clarify, it needs more of Trump’s agenda, not less.

Historic trends usually lead away from the incumbent president in off-year elections. 2017 was no different. There’s plenty of time to “recover” for the GOP, but not if the Congress doesn’t get to work and keep some of its promises. This should be a wake-up call, indeed.

And Trump could do more for himself and the party’s candidates by listening to his legitimate critics and laying off the Twitter button – at least on controversial or legal topics.

Byron York wrote in the Washington Examiner, “Unlike during the campaign, Trump today has a record as president for voters to evaluate. If the economy were to stumble, he would certainly pay a political price. But what if current trends continue for a while, and the economy stays strong or keeps getting better?

“Should that happen, there's no doubt Trump's adversaries, in Congress and in the press, will focus even more relentlessly on his tone, on the hair-on-fire controversy of the day, in an effort to make voters overlook their general level of satisfaction and oppose Trump, even as their lives improve.”

This already seems to be happening as economic growth is stronger now than it’s been for most of this century and the unemployment numbers are similarly trending positively downward for the GOP. Consumer confidence is sky-high and the stock market keeps setting new records. Americans are feeling good about a lot of things, but still don’t like Trump because of his Twitter “tone.”

Up until now Donald Trump has been able to steamroll his competition by adhering to his own instincts on when to attack and when to pull back. With recent events as a guide it’s time for him to perhaps make adjustments in an attempt to improve his personal approval ratings.

Trump will “win” more in the long-term by having more conservatives and Republicans elected and serving in Congress to enact his agenda. If 2017 was any indication, he will have a hard time doing that unless Americans – the people who are persuadable, at least – like him more.

There’s a scene in the movie Gettysburg where General Robert E. Lee (played by Martin Sheen) censures cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart over the latter’s failure to do his duty to the Army of Northern Virginia. Near the end of the meeting, Lee says to Stuart, “You must take what I have told you and learn from it, as a man does. There has been a mistake; it will not happen again.”

If Trump and the Republicans were smart they’d take 2017’s lessons and man-up for a fierce fight of their own.

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