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Listening to the AM in the P.M.

A couple of summers ago we fell out of the habit of listening to right-wing talk radio shows, but we tuned in with a morbid curiosity on Wednesday to hear what they had to say about the shellacking the Republicans took in various places around the country on Tuesday. What we heard does not bode well for the Grand Old Party.
We missed Rush Limbaugh’s analysis of the results, but we later learned that the self-elected “Mayor of Realville” basically said the results where what you can always expect from Democratic jurisdictions and had little to do with President Donald Trump. Sean Hannity spent the first half-year hour looking back nostalgically on that night, complete with some gleefully played audio of liberal pundits smugly laughing off Trump’s chances in the run-up to the upset, and during his brief discussion of the previous night’s shellacking was careful not to blame his most favorite president ever for any of it. The growlier and slightly-less-sycophantic Mark Levin was more frank about how a full year of Trump has revved up the Democratic vote, and the growlier yet and antithetical-to-whoever’s-in charge Michael Savage was reminding his coast-to-coast listeners that no matter how much it might love Trump there’s a big chunk of the country that can’t stand him.
Levin’s a cacophonous screamer who played no small part in dragging the Republican party down into the school yard taunt of level of political rhetoric, and he’s a veritable William F. Buckley by comparison to Savage, but we’ll give them both credit for their realism. The year since Trump’s election has brought enough “tweets” and taunts and provoked enough liberal outrage to satisfy his hard-core supporters, along with a Supreme Court pick and some sweeping de-regulations and resulting stock market gains. That’s been eenough to placate the more wary Republicans, and it won four straight elections in solidly Republican districts where they needed to replace representatives chosen for the Trump administration, but Tuesday made it clear it hasn’t played so well elsewhere.
The Democratic rout in New Jersey can be easily dismissed, as New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state and for now all the more so after eight years of Gov. Chris Christie and his double digit approval ratings. Christie once saved the state from insolvency with his tough guy approach to taxes and spending and negotiating with the state’s notorious private sector unions, and was briefly regarded by the Republican party as a leading presidential contender, but he somehow managed to annoy and appall by the Democrats in his state and Republicans elsewhere during a second term. You can’t blame Trump for that, but Christie’s embarrassing obsequiousness to Trump after he was bested in the Republican primary clearly didn’t him any good.
Trump lost Virginia’s electoral votes, too, but a year later the Republican nominee he endorsed and “tweeted” about and did robocalls for wound up losing by a few points more. That can be explained by the fact that milquetoast center-left Democratic nominee Ralph Northam didn’t carry all the baggage that Clinton did, but after all those ads about illegal immigrant gangs and confederates statues and disrespectful-to-the-flag football players it can’t be explained by Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s failure to more fully embrace Trump and Trumpist policies. The Democrats won all of the statewide and most of the district voting, too, including a transgender candidate who beat out the state’s self-described “chief homophobe,” and a lot of ostensibly straight and white and male legislators were replaced by a more ethnically and sexually diverse lot, which strikes us as a statewide rejection of Trumpism.
All politics is local, and Virginia’s a typically unique state, what with all those Washington bureaucrats in the northern suburbs and all them fancy-schmaltzy universities in the hinterlands, but all the exit polling confirms our educated suspicions that the Republicans lost a lot of educated and well-paid suburbanites who might have voted for the George W. Bush-affiliated Gillespie who had narrowly lost to an entrenched Democratic senator four years earlier but couldn’t pull the level for the Trumpified Gillespie of Tuesday, and that can have implications for all sorts of places around the country.
Such populous states as California and New York and Illinois reliably cast their electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee, but they all have some reliably Republican districts, and along with that the current Republican majorities in the House and the Senate come in large part from such populous swing states as Ohio and Florida. These districts tend to have a high percentage of well educated and well paid white people, who tend not to be easily assuaged by Trump’s taunts and the liberal outrage they provoke, which they have to hear about at the office the next day and can’t bring themselves to defend, so we’d advise to not offend them further.
Several of the various Republican tax plans that are currently floating around the legislative ether, though, propose to repeal those Republican redoubts in enemy territory of an income tax deduction for the income tax pay they pay to their state and local governments. The change isn’t much of a big deal here in Kansas, where you can say whatever you want about those stingy Republicans but most Kansans pay so little to Topeka they aren’t eligible for the deduction, but it’s a darned big deal to some well educated and well paid and potential Republicans in potentially Republican districts in Orange County, California, and Westchester County, Pennsylvania, and any of those other occasional Republican redoubts in between where the the damned Democrats in the rest of the state charge so much the deduction is worth more than the promised cut in the rate.
That’s what they get for living in a state that didn’t vote for Trump, a Republican friend of ours recently explained to us over a beer, but we’d only had the one and it didn’t seem a winning political strategy. Any old political party can use all the help it can get from the well educated and well paid sorts of people, white or otherwise, and there’s no reason for the Republicans to to be antagonizing the persuadable ones with childish taunts and punitive tax increases. If the party persists we’re sure most of those Republicans from those high-tax redoubts will put their constituents before party, which might be enough to sink the whole reform effort, and even if it doesn’t the effort isn’t poling well thus far. That’s the view from here on a Wednesday after a Tuesday shellacking.

— Bud Norman

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The Dems Get Some Wins

This had been a long and desultory 364 days for the Democratic Party, what with President Donald Trump winning the White House and the rest of the Republicans maintaining control of congress before reeling off a winning streak of four special elections, but on Tuesday night they at long last put some impressive wins on the board. The Democrats decisively won a gubernatorial race in Virginia that was widely seen as a referendum on Trump, as well as all the other statewide offices and a House  of Delegates race pitting a transgender candidate against the self-described “chief homophobe of Virginia” who had authored a segregated restroom bill, and they ended eight years of Republican rule in the New Jersey governor’s mansion with a  far bigger rout.
That Virginia gubernatorial race got the most attention, of course, because it was expected to be close and was by the far the most interesting. The race pitted Republican Ed Gillespie against Democrat Ralph Northam, and the stark contrast in a state that is neither very Republican nor very Democratic had obvious national implications. Both parties, we suspect, will carefully analyze the race.
Gillespie is a longtime Washington lobbyist who served as a counselor to President George W. Bush and ran the Republican National Committee’s state organizing operation and was a senior member of Republican nominee Mitt’s Romney’s campaign, and such impeccably establishment credentials and a mainstream message brought him to a near upset against longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. By 2016 Trump had won with anti-establishment and defiantly outside-the-mainstream message, and although Virginia was the only southern state that Trump didn’t carry Gillespie decided to pursue a similar strategy. His advertisements stressed Northam’s past support for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws and promised a much tougher stand, touted his own opposition to the removal of public statues honoring the Confederacy, and included some direct mail showing pictures of National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The campaign was careful not to mention Trump by name, and reportedly declined Trump’s repeated offers of an appearance on Gillespie’s behalf, but it was hard not to notice the Trumpian overtones. Trump had narrowly lost the state despite huge majorities in the very Southern southern part of the state because of huger majorities in the northern part of state where everybody works in nearby Washington, D.C, so the apparent strategy was to rile up the rednecks in the south without alarming all the more genteel Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists and reporters in the D.C. suburbs who had almost carried him to victory just three years earlier. If Trump were a shrewder politician he would have played along by staying away, but of course he “tweeted” his way into contest with taunts of Northam and no mention of Gillespie, and that didn’t help Gillespie pull of what was already bound to be a difficult trick.
The president predictably “tweeted” while on his Asian tour that Gillespie lost because he didn’t fully embrace Trump, forgetting that Virginia was the one southern state that he didn’t win. A full-throated Trump endorsement might have brought out a few extra votes in those oh-so-southern precincts, but it would have also energized all the Democrats in the D.C suburbs while discouraging those Republican establishment voters who live next door, so there’s no reason to think he would have fared any better in the state this around. The last time Trump was invited to a campaign appearance was during the special Republican primary in Alabama, where he rarely mentioned his preferred candidate’s name and admitted he might have made a mistake in endorsing the guy in the first and got more headlines by fulminating about NFL players, and that guy wound up losing to a full-fledged theocrat who’s Trumpier than Trump himself, who might yet wind up losing in Alabama of all places.
There’s a strong case to be made against “sanctuary cities,” although our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities prefer they not be couched in such frankly racialist language as both Trump and Gillespie have used, and the there’s a reasonable case for preserving those statues honoring confederate soldiers, but no case to be made for honoring the Confederacy, and surely the country has better things to worry about than what some NFL players do during the national anthem, so we’re not sure what good Trumpism did Gillespie even without bringing Trump into it.
Meanwhile the Democrats were running a very mainstream and establishment candidate, who was of course too far left for our tastes and most of the D.C. suburb Republicans, but it could have been worse. Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the entire Sandersnista wing of the party backed insurgent candidate Tom Perrielo in the primary, but after that fell short Perrielo enthusiastically campaigned on Northam’s behalf against the Trumpian threat, and the party unity carried the day. That’s a lesson Democrats elsewhere would be wise to heed, but so far they don’t seem any smarter about this stuff than the Republicans.
The Democratic blow-out in New Jersey was more predictable, given the state’s Democratic tendencies, but also has implications for Trump and Trumpism. Gov. Chris Christie won the office eight years ago because the longtime Democratic rule had over-taxed and over-spent and over-regulated the state so badly that it went for a rare Republican, and after some initial pain the tax cuts and spending cuts and deregulation had worked out well enough to win him reelection, but since then he’s managed to annoy just about everyone. Hard-core Republicans were appalled when he literally hugged President Barack Obama in the aftermath of a hurricane that hit New Jersey, and of course the Democrats weren’t all placated. He denounced the character and intellect and temperament of Trump when they were both vying for the Republican nomination, and when became an obsequious sycophant after Trump forced him out of the primary of course the Trump supporters weren’t placated. Christie had sent Trump’s son-in-law’s father to prison back in his days as a federal prosecutor and didn’t get a cabinet appointment, which made him look ridiculous, and a bridge tie-up engineered by his underlings and an embarrassing photo of him of sunning his considerable self on a public beach he’d ordered closed during a government didn’t help,
Despite his first term heroics Christie is leaving office with an approval rating below 20 percent, so it’s hardly surprising that an instinctively Democratic state overwhelmingly rejected his Lieutenant Governor to replace him. We’re not sure what lessons Republicans or Democrats should learn from this, except that Trump always complicates things, but it provided another reason for the Democrats to be celebrating on a cold and windy November night for the first time in years.
That four-and-oh winning streak the Republicans racked up during the special elections were in states and districts replacing popular Republicans incumbents who had been tabbed for Trump administration jobs, and although none were very close all were closer than the party could usually expect. Here in the fourth congressional district of Kansas the Democrat ran ads featuring himself firing semi-automatic weapons and distancing himself from the usual Democratic craziness, and he came within single digits of a Republican whose ads showed him wading in the same metaphorical swamp that Trump had promised to drain, and across the country both Trump and Trumpism aren’t polling well.
Trump can rightly claim that the unemployment rate is down and the stock market is up since his election, albeit on more or less the same trajectory that preceded his election, but the mainstream of America and the old guard of its political parties surely surely deserves some credit for that, and what we gather from Tuesday’s results is that as used to be usual whichever party comes closer to the center will reap the benefits.

— Bud Norman