How Will Republicans Respond to Tuesday’s Elections?

The news coming out of the elections on Tuesday was all bad for Republicans. The question they face now is how to respond. I would propose that presents itself on two fronts: (1) how does it affect their plans for 2018 midterm campaigns, and (2) how does it affect their legislative agenda?

On the first question, we know that Republican Ed Gillespie adopted Trump’s strategy of mobilizing white voters via racist fear mongering. I had written previously that it was a harbinger of what was to come in the 2018 midterms. It’s too soon to tell whether other candidates will now reject that model. But as Callum Borchers points out, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have both done an about-face from their recent embrace of Gillespie. They’re now running away from him as fast as possible. The message coming from that is that Gillespie wasn’t sufficiently Trumpian. If doubling down on Trump’s divisiveness is the path Republicans choose, Minority Leader Pelosi basically said they should bring it on.

Here’s why she said that:

Geoff Garin, Northam’s pollster, told me the campaign’s internal polling confirmed that Trump is driving Democratic energy. “Democratic voters are more engaged than ever, and as a result, they’re showing up,” Garin said, adding that Democratic voters and Dem-leaning independents are “engaging in politics more,” out of dismay at the “division and divisiveness” that Trump is creating and out of a sense that “existential things are occurring in this country.”…

“There was a very negative reaction among college-educated voters and swing voters generally to [Gillespie’s] MS-13 ads,” he said. Meanwhile, some polling had shown the race-baiting might have energized Democratic constituencies.

On the legislative front, Speaker Paul Ryan has already announced his intentions.

Democrats’ big wins in state races on Tuesday night put pressure on Republicans to deliver on their pledge to redo tax laws, House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday morning…

“It doesn’t change my reading of the current moment, it just emphasizes my reading of the current moment, which is we have a promise to keep and we’ve got to get on with keeping our promise,” Ryan said at an event hosted by the Washington Examiner.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching politics over the last few decades. The Republican response to any situation has always been “we need more tax cuts.” But Jonathan Chait has a nice catch on that one—particularly as it relates to the white college-educated voters that were part of the backlash against Trumpism in Virginia.

First, he points out that there are “many House Republicans from districts with similar demographic profiles — in New Jersey, New York, and California, among other places.” Then he describes the problem with the current Republican tax cut plan.

What is remarkable is that the Republican plan to avert this catastrophe is to inflict economic hardship on these very constituents. The party has convinced itself that the solution to its unpopularity is to vote through an unpopular plan to combine tax cuts for corporations and rich people with tax increases on a large minority of the middle class. The highest doses of fiscal pain of the Republican plan would be concentrated on upper-middle-class voters who live in blue states — like, say, New Jersey, New York, and California.

Based on what we’re seeing so far, the Republican response to the elections yesterday is to double down on what they were already doing—which will only further alienate the constituencies that caused their overwhelming defeat yesterday. It is tempting to say, “Please proceed, Republicans.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.