The Melting of Republican Snowflakes

That sound you hear is the playing of the world’s tiniest violin for Republican Governors who didn’t have enough sense to walk away from the party once Donald Trump secured the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and who now fear the consequences:

For nearly a decade, meetings of the Republican Governors Association were buoyant, even giddy, affairs, as the party — lifted by enormous political donations and a backlash against the Obama administration — achieved overwhelming control of state governments.

But a sense of foreboding hung over the group’s gathering in Austin this past week, as President Trump’s unpopularity and Republicans’ unexpectedly drastic losses in elections earlier this month in Virginia, New Jersey and suburbs from Philadelphia to Seattle raised the specter of a political reckoning in 2018.

“I do think Virginia was a wake-up call,” said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who took over here as chairman of the governors association. “There’s a pretty strong message there. When Republicans lose white married women, that’s a strong message.”

Yes—it’s a message that right-wing media propaganda is not infallible, and cannot always convince people that up is down and wrong is right. The realization that the Republican Noise Machine can’t fool all of the people all of the time is rightfully making these governors nervous:

Republicans have long anticipated that the midterm campaign will prove difficult. But the drubbing they suffered in Virginia, where they lost the governorship by nine percentage points, along with at least 15 State House seats threaded throughout the state’s suburbs, has the party’s governors worried that 2018 could be worse than feared.

Voters appear eager to punish Mr. Trump.

“Any time the titular head of the party is underwater, obviously there’s going to be issues there. You can’t just ignore that,” said Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who is facing re-election in a state that Mr. Trump lost by less than a percentage point.

The battle for Congress, already center stage, will draw only more attention if the embattled Roy S. Moore loses an Alabama Senate race in December, jeopardizing Republican control of the chamber. But the contests for governor are perhaps more consequential.

Next year’s statehouse races will reorder the country’s political map for a decade, because many of the 36 governors elected will have a strong hand in redrawing state legislative and congressional boundaries after the 2020 census.

If Trump causes catastrophic losses for the GOP in the 2018 midterms and subsequently loses the 2020 presidential election, how long will it be before Republicans and right-wing media figures attempt to promote the idea that Trump was some sort of fifth-column figure who intentionally sabotaged the Republican Party to benefit Democrats? Republicans are not creative when it comes to generating good policies, but they’re geniuses when it comes to generating excuses. It will be interesting to see how these folks try to spin massive defeats over the next three years.

Of course, there are some Republican gubernatorial aspirants delusional enough to think the stench of Trumpism won’t affect them:

Assemblyman Travis Allen and businessman John Cox, two politicians unfamiliar to most Californians, share an audacious goal that no Republican has achieved in more than a decade: to be elected governor of the Golden State.

Despite the Democrats’ dominance of statewide politics in California, the two men think the state’s liberal-leaning voters are open to their message. They believe growing frustration with California’s high cost of living and what they describe as liberal overreach in Sacramento — most recently the gas tax increase — could tilt the race in their favor.

But the obstacles are daunting. Democratic Party advantages in voter registration, money and power have led the GOP to near-irrelevance at the state level. One way Cox and Allen hope to reverse that course and raise their name recognition is through ballot-measure campaigns. The men have pitched separate efforts to repeal the gas tax, and Cox also has submitted voter signatures to qualify a ballot measure to dramatically restructure the Legislature.

Allen compares the mood of the electorate to that 14 years ago when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in a historic election and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state’s last Republican governor…

[But California] has grown more liberal since the recall. Democrats have a 19 percentage-point voter registration advantage, and only 1 in 4 of the state’s voters are registered Republicans. No GOP candidate has been elected to statewide office since 2006, and Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

It’s one thing to argue that the California electorate is not necessarily as progressive as commonly assumed; it’s these concerns that have influenced the debate over single-payer in the Golden State. It’s quite another thing to argue that the California electorate would see a gubernatorial nominee aligned with an intellectually and morally bankrupt party as a suitable alternative to lead the state (the 2003 Schwarzenegger fluke notwithstanding).

If there are epic losses for Republicans in the House, Senate and gubernatorial races on November 6, 2018, will Trump disavow those losers as he did with Ed Gillespie a few weeks back? If so, it would serve them right, as they should have disavowed him–and the party–in 2016.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.