Honestly, it didn’t really matter how the legislative races in Virginia turned out. They were not going help former President Donald Trump’s case for re-election. But as they did turn out, it was a clear loss for Trump.
To be fair, Trump was probably in a no-win situation from the jump. The major issue on which Democrats ran while Republicans kept him at arm’s length. With that as the set-up, Trump was going to lose no matter the outcome.
I live in Maryland, near the D.C. and Virginia border. So even though there were no elections for me to vote in, my television was inundated with political campaign ads — only this time for people I had never heard of and couldn’t vote for or against.
The Republican ads were about issues — from schools and the “woke” agenda related to “trans” students and parental rights to “defund the police” and rising crime. They weren’t particularly informative — no campaign commercials ever are — but they did contain promises for action on actual issues people care about, while advocating for the specific candidates who ran them.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party candidates’ ads were not about what those candidates would do, with the exception of a blanket promise to expand “abortion rights.” They weren’t even about any candidate’s particular opponent, although they each mentioned who they were running against more frequently than they mentioned themselves.
Their ads were about “MAGA Republicans.” Since every Republican was a “MAGA Republican,” it was really just a giant strawman, constructed in ad after ad — a boogeyman to scare children and motivate Democrats to go to the polls.
“MAGA Republican” is code for Donald Trump, or for people loyal to the current GOP frontrunner. It’s meaningless, really, but the desire to “make America great again” elicits in the minds of Democrats an angry response. It’s a signal to the base that even if they don’t like the candidates on the ballot, they need to go vote because the alternative is “Hitler, Jr.” or whatever they’re calling Trump these days.
In that sense, Donald Trump was at the top of every ballot in Virginia yesterday.
For his part, Trump mostly ignored the election in Virginia. If that state had been “MAGA Country,” Trump would have dropped the ball by not doing anything to help people loyal to him.
But Virginia is not MAGA country. The Republicans on the ballot did not wrap themselves in the former President or his message. Republicans ran a local election on local issues. The outcome was irrelevant to that, which is why Donald Trump lost.
Virginia Republicans ran a campaign like the one their Governor, Glenn Youngkin (R), did two years ago. They ignored Trump and talked about what they wanted to campaign on.
During his 2021 race, Youngkin did not campaign with the former president, even though Trump wanted to get involved. Instead, he relegated “the Donald” to making a phone call to supporters. Trump would make zero in-person appearances with the eventual winner.
Trump has since tried to claim credit for Youngkin’s win, while distancing himself from every loss in his wake. Think of all those Trump-related Georgia Senate elections and run-offs in the last couple of years.
The Republican failure to win control of Virginia’s legislature will hamper the conservative agenda in the Old Dominion for the rest of Youngkin’s term. More than that, it shows how vulnerable Republicans will be in 2024.
President Biden is extremely unpopular, now routinely pulling an approval rating under 40 percent. Yet even with his hot mess at the top of their party, Democrats running campaigns against Trump and Trumpism managed to win. They barely had to address their opponents — just paint them all as acolytes of Trump, and that was enough.
There is no reason to believe things will change before next year. Trump supporters may be dedicated and loyal, but they not a majority. Nor do they seem to realize how widely hated Trump is by everyone outside their own group. The Trump base runs the risk of becoming the modern equivalent of Pauline Kael, the film critic credited with saying that she didn’t know how President Richaard Nixon won his landslide 1972 reelection, since she didn’t know anyone who had voted for him. Although the quote is likely apocryphal, the sentiment is not, especially in an age when people can use social media to construct their own news cocoons.
Trump’s supporters love him, which makes it difficult for them to understand how many others do not.
You don’t have to love a candidate to vote for him, but you won’t vote for him if you really hate him. Voters have no love for Joe Biden right now, but many of them like Donald Trump even less. Virginia showed how easily the people who don’t like Trump can be motivated to go to the polls and take that hatred out on any Republican. In that sense, the case for Trump in 2024 lost “bigly” last night.
Derek Hunter is host of the Derek Hunter Podcast and a former staffer for the late Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).
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