Opinion: The big takeaways from 2017 elections aren’t good for GOP

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat, celebrates his election victory Tuesday in Fairfax, Va. (AP Photo / Cliff Owen)

We’ll get to the meaning of the local races later, but first let’s do what I said yesterday we should be wary of doing: Looking at the results from a Republicans vs. Democrats perspective.

Why the change of heart? The magnitude of the results.

There is no good news here for Republicans. None. They lost a pair of state House seats in which just a year ago Democrats didn’t even bother to compete. They saw a pair of Democrats advance to a runoff in a state Senate seat previously held by one of the GOP’s gubernatorial hopefuls. They made no breakthroughs in Democratic strongholds. Even their lone candidate for Fulton County Commission chairman didn’t make a runoff against two Democratic opponents.

Looking outside Georgia, the wipe-out in Virginia appears to be of epic proportions. Republicans entered Tuesday with a super-majority — 66 of 100 seats — in that state’s House of Delegates. It appears the GOP will have no more than 50 seats after this election. That’s a stunning reversal of fortune in one election. As I noted yesterday, there are reasons to think those contests collectively tell us more about national trends than Virginia’s statewide races. Not that those went any better for the GOP: Democrats won races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general by comfortable margins.

***

The question of course is what this means for next year and beyond. Here, Democrats might want to tone down the exuberance just a tad.

Starting in Virginia, it’s not clear that what we saw is anything more than the solidifying of that state as a blue one. As far as what it means for the GOP in 2018 and 2020, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn offers this word of caution amid the otherwise good news for Democrats:

“The catch, though, is that the overwhelming Democratic strength in well-educated areas did not cross the political divides of the 2016 election into white working-class areas. In fact, (Gov.-elect Ralph) Northam, a Virginia Military Institute graduate with a strong Southern pedigree, didn’t even come close to matching Gov. Terry McAuliffe, (Barack) Obama or Senator Tim Kaine in rural western Virginia. Democratic State Assembly candidates didn’t run well ahead of (Hillary) Clinton, either.

“Yes, the political divisions of the 2016 presidential election wound up working pretty well for Democrats in Virginia, a highly educated state. But this might not be the case for Democrats in a lot of the rest of the country. There are only 11 Republican-held congressional districts in the United States where Mrs. Clinton won by five points or more. Even if Democrats swept those 11 districts, it wouldn’t get them far toward the 24 seats they need to flip the House.

“To my surprise, it’s not obvious that a rerun of the Virginia House of Delegates election on a national scale would yield Democratic control of the House. Without greater strength in areas that supported (Donald) Trump, it would still be a tossup.”

Likewise, there’s this bit of history about Virginia breaking with the previous year’s presidential results:

As you surely already know, the last three presidents (Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) won re-election anyway. But let’s be honest: This is electoral nit-picking. A toss-up election for the U.S. House in 2018 is a far cry from GOP’s initial hopes they could not only maintain that chamber but add strength in the Senate, as Democrats have a number of red-state seats to defend. In short, you would far rather have the Democrats’ momentum today than whatever we might call what the Republicans have (since “momentum” doesn’t seem to be the right word).

***

The story in Georgia is somewhat different. The partisan races Tuesday were mostly special elections, and a number of caveats about them apply.

Yes, the GOP lost two state House races in the Athens area that have been GOP locks in recent years. There’s no way for the party to spin those particular results. But as we look ahead, let’s consider turnout: In House District 117, just over 7,500 votes were cast Tuesday; even in an uncontested race a year ago, there were 18,374. The same goes in HD 119, where the numbers were 7,900 and 19,055, respectively. Now, no one expected the Republicans to lose both of those races (or, arguably, either of them) outright Tuesday. Again, there’s no good GOP spin there. But one would still expect Republicans to fare much better in a higher-turnout election, given those areas’ usual propensity to vote for Republicans. Fundamentals should matter more in those districts next year.

Then there’s Senate District 6, which covers Vinings and parts of Smyrna, Buckhead and Sandy Springs. The district in the past has leaned Republican. But Clinton won it in 2016, and now a pair of Democrats are headed to a runoff. That’s a bad outcome for the GOP. But it’s also true that the two Democrats split 47 percent of the vote fairly evenly, while a trio of Republicans split another 46.5 percent. (Three candidates, two Republicans and one Democrat, divided the rest.) Vote-splitting cost the GOP dearly, similar to what nearly happened in the first round of the 6th Congressional District race earlier this year. But as far as next year goes, there is ample reason to believe a Republican candidate in a head-to-head contest with even an incumbent Democrat will be a strong contender.

***

So, what are the big takeaways? Nationally, I think it’s similar to what we’ve seen in other off-year elections over the past decade or two: The minority party tends to have more motivation. The question is why. And I think the answer has something to do with the fact neither party is truly resonating with the American people right now.

Think about it: Democrats lost big in 2010 after racking up big, but largely unpopular, legislative wins on health care and the economic stimulus. Republicans now are being blamed for inaction on health care and, potentially, taxes. But while I agree with the notion Republicans are in the most trouble if they don’t notch some victories between now and next November, I don’t think the answer in broad terms is that Americans want what the GOP is selling more now than what Democrats were selling then. I think both parties are generally guilty of working on old agendas, with marginal near-term benefit, rather than deeply addressing the needs of the moment. That translates to popular disapproval of the party in power, whether its mistake is overreach or underachievement. So the pendulum swings back to the minority … but not for long.

That doesn’t mean either party is supposed to abandon its traditional philosophical approach; there’s always going to be a party advocating more government intervention and another advocating less. It does, however, mean each party desperately needs to apply its philosophy in ways different from how it was done in the 1960s (Democrats) or 1980s (Republicans).

The GOP is somewhat better off in Georgia because lawmakers here have done more to address citizens’ concerns. But they need to do more. And the risk for the GOP here is that another election cycle of assuming satisfaction among voters — but this time with candidates trying to various degrees to be like Trump, without the money, fame or brash personality — gives Democrats an opening. If so, Tuesday’s results show, even if on a small scale, that’s an opening Democrats are increasingly prepared to walk through.

Reader Comments 0

121 comments
RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Oh my, Roy Moore in Ala may be in deep doodoo!

Caius
Caius

@RoadScholar Nope, not in any trouble at all.  Has an "R" after his name on the ballot.  All that is required.

bendedknee
bendedknee

When is this idiot's madness going to end:


""President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

President Barack Obama recommended the now-nullified regulation in a 2013 memo following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six others dead. The measure sought to block some people with severe mental health problems from buying guns."""


https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-signs-bill-revoking-obama-era-gun-checks-people-mental-n727221


Only a huge contribution by NRA justifies this recklessness.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

Well, to put it bluntly. There are no Russians to blame. Trump needs to either get on board and start acting like the President, or you will see the largest and quickest change in power in who knows how long. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@InTheMiddle2


Here's hoping you are right and that the 2018 elections become known as the "Bluenami" and the biggest electoral thumping in the history of our Republic.

bendedknee
bendedknee

Trumpsters here cannot comprehend Kyle's comments and think their idol is a hero strictly because he beat Hillary a year ago.  Trumpism was soundly rejected yesterday. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@bendedknee 

You mean like the Obamanites not comprehending that Obamanism was soundly rejected in the national election last year.

WWYT?
WWYT?

@SGTGrit @bendedknee Don't you mean "Hillaryism".  She did not run on Obama's platform.  But, but, but....

bendedknee
bendedknee

@SGTGrit @WWYT? @bendedknee See they are stuck on Nov. 7, 2016 and cannot grasp why their idol is a bag of hot air.  Without Hillary, Obama and Bill to punch at , they are totally confused.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The Democrats are all giddy about yesterdays off year election but a few take away observations. In Virginia Gillespie did well within the Trump voter precents throughout the state of Virginia. He lost in the heavily populated urban areas in Northern VA. where many work for the federal government or they're on federal government sustenance in some form. Not unlike last years national election. Secondly, New Jersey by and large is your typical Northeastern blue state. Christie, replaced a corrupt Democrat governor and didn't prove himself to be much better. I think this only proves the notion that the Democrats have devolved into only a regional party of coastal heavily populated urban centers.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit 


It's a tough problem for republican members of the US Congress. They know Trump is a worthless pile of crap, they know he represents the views of just a handful of extremists, but they can't start distancing themselves quite yet.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge @SGTGrit 

The stupids driven by ideology and ignorance have no clue. It isn't about jumping to the opportunity for sitting down and having a beer and a sandwich or going on a fishing trip with Trump, it's about policies. The base couldn't care less about how he combs his hair or his personal life they only care about his policies. Beauty contests died with the end of Obama's presidency when Trump was elected. The electorate wants results and so far most of us who voted for Trump, are seeing them and want more.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge 

Trumps views are not extremist views they're views shared among those who believe in a strong America and particularly those of us who served the country in a time of war. The leftist ideology is dead in mainstream America.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@SGTGrit @breckenridge Please list all Trump's accomplishments while in office. Leave out embarrassing the US, being a jerk, and insulting even people in his own party.

breckenridge
breckenridge

"Trump at his worst. Everything is always about him." Brit Hume, Fox News, criticizing President Trump's response to Republicans losing the Virginia governor's race.

breckenridge
breckenridge

34% of Virginia voters said the main reason they showed up was to vote against Donald Trump.

Nationally Trump still has 80% support among republicans.  The problem is with the largest voting bloc, independents.  He was about 50% a year ago, but 1 in 3 support him now.  


In neither case is it policy. It's his personality, who he is.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@breckenridge I disagree. Lack of knowledge, meaningful leadership, and constantly everything is about him are my reasons. He doesn't have a clue what any legislation is...unless it benefits him...see point 3.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge 

Sorry but I don't consider CBS the best source for unbiased national data.

Doomy
Doomy

@SGTGrit @breckenridge


What? You don't believe Dan Rather? LOL! 


Who can forget that completely bogus W Air Guard story and the fabricated documents Dan Rather used to claim that W didn't do his guard service. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Think you've got this pegged pretty well, Kyle.

I think to take it a bit farther, it'd behoove the Dems and the GOP to craft a mid-term message above and beyond whatever legislation they're either passing, or fighting about passing. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Visual_Cortex 

Ummm, that sounds ominous almost advocating crafted propaganda directed toward the masses. Hasn't that been tried and failed at least for the most part in recent times.

Doomy
Doomy

@JFMcNamara


"The House Republican tax bill would cause slightly more than 25 percent of taxpayers to pay more by 2027, "


You should try reading your own link, sir. Slightly more than a quarter would see a slight increase and that wouldn't happen for 10 years- plenty of time to readjust things. In the meantime they can enjoy the current tax cuts. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara You might want to read the updated version. The TPC now acknowledges it got it wrong originally. Every income group has an average tax cut by 2027, and substantial majority of every group (60-plus percent) gets a tax cut or no change by 2027. The group with the largest share of people getting a tax increase under this analysis is the top quintile.

But of course, plenty of people, apparently including yourself, will continue to repeat the original, incorrect figures from TPC's analysis.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara


First, it clearly states at the top that this is based on the updated version released November 8th.  You could have at least clicked it before providing your canned wrong response.  I'm informed, and I don't need to lie to be right.


Second, it is corroborated by the JCT, so there are two non-partisan studies that came to the same conclusion.


Third, I can read. On average, the poor see an increase.  25% of households would pay more.


I said that this is the the rich receiving a tax cut at the benefit of the poor and middle class.  If Obama had done this, you would have written a tirade about class warfare and how he is hurting small business owners and the poor. 


Tax cuts as a policy are a failure.  Growth won't offset the cuts, and to make it less expensive they are burdening the poor, middle class, and small business owners on top of the massive deficit increase.


This is terrible policy, and I've been right every step of the way. 


"In 2027, the poorest 40 percent of the country would see a tax increase on average. In total, slightly more than 25 percent of households would pay more in 2027 under the plan than they’re currently set to pay. That includes nearly half of households making between $225,400 and $304,600, the 90th to 95th percentiles."

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Doomy @JFMcNamara Yeah let's pass something that needs adjusting? How about Obamacare? Same issue! Notice I didn't say Repeal and replace!

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara Since the bill is constantly changing in the House, and the Senate bill is different, how can you make such a deliberately wrong answer? You state the change  by TPC....how many more changes? Oh and I bet the repubs will not adopt any dem changes, unlike Obamacare.

Doomy
Doomy

"but what you didn't mention is that this vote, more than anything else, is a rejection of the tenants of Trumpism, including racism, sexism, classism, nazism and any other isms you can think of:"


You left out xenophobia, transgenderism, and of course a few other isms and phobias that I'm sure you'll claim are proof of Trump's hatred of anything and everything. Lots of imaginary isms out there for the kooks on the left to get riled up about. Lots of em. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

One thing that republicans still have working for them: Nancy Pelosi.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@breckenridge


The Dems really do need to get a new leader in the house. Her time has gone. Time to move on.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@McGarnagle @breckenridge

I think Pelosi is the stuff of political political junkie-dom, not so much the kind of thing swing voters really care about.

If Nancy can keep the coalition united (and she has so far) I don't see any point in dumping her from a job she's doing well.

breckenridge
breckenridge

One thing that was absent from this blog, and I must say I was sad that it did not appear, is the smoke and mirrors commentary that usually shows up after a mass shooting.  It goes like this.........."well the murder rate in Chicago is blah blah and it's controlled by dems." 

So.....should we assume the death by gun rate in the state of Illinois is one of the highest in the country? Why no, that would be a mistake.  Illinois isn't even in the top 20.  So which states are in the top 20?  Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, West Virginia, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, New Mexico, Oklahoma,  Wyoming and Montana.


And the top 5?


1. Alaska

2. Louisiana 

3. Mississippi

4. Alabama

5. Arkansas


But...but... but....Obama..........



SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge 

You should at least provide a link to your sources out of courtesy but also to show your own confidence in your source's veracity.

Doomy
Doomy

@breckenridge


That includes accidents like hunting accidents of course and suicide. That's quite different from daily drive by shootings. 

WhyorWhyNot
WhyorWhyNot

Good spin, Kyle, but what you didn't mention is that this vote, more than anything else, is a rejection of the tenants of Trumpism, including racism, sexism, classism, nazism and any other isms you can think of. Maybe Trump doesn't really believe all of this garbage, but he should uses it to keep his base stirred up.

waitaminute3210
waitaminute3210

@WhyorWhyNot If you can't get past "isms" you might want to consider thinking on a larger scale. I don't see where you're addressing taxes, tariffs, jobs, NAFTA, healthcare (and the rest of Trumps platform). Those things are bigger than your "isms" and "tenants" you think you know, but apparently don't. I see this vote as backlash from partisans. One thing for sure, Trump has you stirred up.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@waitaminute3210 @WhyorWhyNot 

Backlash from partisans? Wishful thinking. 

 There was a very robust turnout in Virginia. And people stood and waited in the rain in order to vote.

waitaminute3210
waitaminute3210

@breckenridge From the person who threatened to kill me and my family because I disagreed with him. I still have the screenshots pal. Take a hike. 

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

Trump: "I understand the Chinese mind"


Trump: "[China] sucks the blood out of us and we owe them money"


Trump: "China is literally raping our country"


Trump: "Thank you for the beautiful welcome China!"


Idiot. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@DeepStateDawg


Trump would get my vote if he tells the Chinese exactly how he feels about them. Inventors of Global Warming hoax.