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Trump in trouble: Seven lessons from Democrats’ election wave on Tuesday

Big Democratic victories in Virginia and elsewhere suggest Republicans are in big trouble in the 2018 midterm elections.

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Assembly.

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President Donald Trump speaks at the National Assembly.

WASHINGTON—Democrats won races for governor. Democrats won races for state legislature. Democrats won races for mayor. Democrats won a referendum on health insurance.

Trans Democrats won. Bland Democrats won. Black Democrats won. Latina Democrats won. Even an honest-to-goodness Democratic Socialist won.

In Virginia.

President Donald Trump has dismissed, as “fake,” polls that suggest he is deeply unpopular.

That will be harder to do now.

One night before the one-year anniversary of Trump’s own victory, voters in state and local elections in several states delivered an unmistakable repudiation of the president with a series of sweeping Democratic triumphs that suggest Trump and his Republicans are in serious electoral danger.

The results could immediately affect federal politics, perhaps convincing more Republican congresspeople to retire rather than run again and, perhaps, emboldening some Republicans to begin to detach from Trump on matters of policy.

Regardless, analysts across the political spectrum said Democrats should be favoured to retake the House of Representatives in the 2018 congressional midterms.

“An enormous storm is coming,” Jeffrey Blehar, an elections analyst for Decision Desk HQ and a conservative, said on Twitter.

“Democrats are wildly motivated to register their hatred for Trump, moderates are disgusted, and his base is depressed by failure to deliver.”

Trump, of course, did not personally appear on any Tuesday ballot.

But discontent with him was the obvious thread linking the Republican failures around the country.

“This is about Trump. There’s just no getting around it,” RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Sean Trende wrote on Twitter.

The most notable result was in Virginia, where the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, ran on Trump-like promises to protect residents from dangerous illegal immigrants and protect Confederate statues from removal.

Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam greets supporters at an election night rally in Fairfax, Virginia. Northam defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie handily.

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Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam greets supporters at an election night rally in Fairfax, Virginia. Northam defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie handily.

Gillespie was trounced by Democrat Ralph Northam, and Democrats unexpectedly dominated state legislature races.

Maine voters approved Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program, which had been resisted furiously by the Republican governor. Democrats won the governorship of New Jersey, easily beating the would-be successor to widely loathed Republican Chris Christie.

A diverse array of Democrats earned a series of demographic firsts, including first transgender and Latina representatives in Virginia, first black mayors in Montana and St. Paul, Minnesota, and first black female mayor of Charlotte.

Democrats flipped a critical state senate seat in Washington state to earn full control of every state government on the west coast.

They also won three formerly Republican-held state seats in Georgia.

Democrats lost a smattering of other races, and there is no guarantee that other states will behave the same way these states did. (Virginia and New Jersey both went for Democrats in 2016, too.)

But the night was hard to read as anything other than a disturbing sign for Republicans and Trump, himself.

“The question isn’t whether a Democratic wave has started. It’s how big that wave can grow,” said the Democratic election group Flippable.

Here are seven things we learned:

1. “Nationalism” isn’t magic: Gillespie was a Washington insider who rebranded himself as a fire-breathing crusader against illegal immigration, flooding the airwaves with race-baiting advertisements about Latino gangs.

This was the successful Trump playbook advocated by former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Days before the election, Bannon boasted to the New York Times that a Gillespie victory would show that “Trumpism” can prevail without Trump.

Seeing the polls tighten, many Democrats feared Bannon was right, and that they would have to contend with an army of Trump-clone candidates in 2018.

Instead, Northam beat Gillespie by about nine points.

2. The House truly is in play: “You can’t really look at tonight’s results and conclude that Democrats are anything other than the current favorites to pick up the U.S. House in 2018,” Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman said on Twitter.

FiveThirtyEight analyst Nate Silver was slightly more cautious: “I’d say they’re favorites, but not particularly heavy ones,” he wrote.

Still, overly optimistic Republicans and overly pessimistic Democrats should adjust their expectations.

Trump’s sub-40-per cent approval rating makes a 2018 landslide possible, although far from certain, no matter what else happens between now and then.

And wavering Republicans are now more likely to retire, rather than try to get re-elected in this environment.

Which only boosts Democratic prospects.

3. The suburbs can indeed be a force: Hillary Clinton’s campaign had counted on Trump getting crushed in affluent and educated suburbs even if he crushed her in rural communities. It didn’t happen for her, at least not on a big enough scale.

But it did happen in various states on Tuesday.

Gillespie’s Trumpian rhetoric appeared to work for him in Virginia’s rural white communities.

But he got “annihilated,” in the words of New York Times analyst Nate Cohn, in suburban communities.

It wasn’t just the federal-employee-filled suburbs of Washington; the results of lower-profile races elsewhere suggest something broader afoot. Democrats, for example, cruised in local races in one of the Philadelphia suburban counties that was supposed to swing the presidency to Clinton.

“The results of the county sheriff, prothonotary (chief court clerk), recorder of deeds and controller mark the first time in more than 30 years that a Democrat held a single county office other than county commissioner, let alone four,” reported the Bucks County Courier Times.

4. Trump-era Democrats can still succeed with diversity: Trump’s success with white-identity and male-identity politics, defeating the would-be first female president, in part, because of a white-male backlash to the first black president, has prompted deep soul-searching among Democrats about how to reach the once-loyal white men who abandoned them.

Tuesday’s outcomes suggested the answer is not necessarily to deploy a squadron of white men, or more left-wing candidates with the politics of Bernie Sanders, or more candidates with the centrism of 1990s Bill Clinton, or any other type.

All varieties of Democrat did just fine.

The most dramatic victory was by Northam, a genial white southern doctor. Also victorious were such diverse candidates as black Virginia lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax; Helena, Montana progressive Wilmot Collins, a former Liberian refugee who became the state’s first black mayor, and Danica Roem, a transgender woman who beat an anti-trans incumbent who described himself as the state’s “chief homophobe.”

5. Democrats are fired up: Democratic protests helped to save Obamacare. And Democratic energy had made red-state special elections earlier in 2017 far closer than elections in places such as Georgia and Montana usually are.

Still, Democrats had not shown that their anti-Trump passion could propel them to actual election wins.

Now they have.

Republican voters turned out for Gillespie; he received significantly more votes than any state Republican ever. But he was still swamped by a dramatic six-point turnout spike in heavily Democratic Northern Virginia. Activist groups who describe themselves as “the Resistance” helped fuel the remarkable down-ballot Virginia sweep that put Democrats on the verge of seizing the state legislature.

“The Resistance is real,” said former Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, and he is indisputably correct.

6. Surprise, surprise! Health insurance is popular: In part because of antipathy to Obama, Republicans in 19 states have refused to accept billions in federal money through Obamacare to expand the Medicaid program that provides insurance to low-income people.

But the expansion is popular even with many of their voters.

Maine proved it.

Bypassing Gov. Paul LePage, a hard-line right-winger who had vetoed expansion five times, Maine voted 59 per cent to 41 per cent in favour of expansion, providing coverage to as many as 80,000 additional residents.

This was the first time Medicaid was expanded via citizen vote.

The result will undoubtedly embolden activists in other states to try to do the same.

7. Justice reformers are, at least sometimes, winning: Sure, Philadelphia is one of the country’s most Democratic cities, but still: it just elected a chief prosecutor with no experience as a prosecutor, a resumé that includes 75 lawsuits as a defence attorney against the Philadelphia police, and a proud record of support for Black Lives Matter activists.

Larry Krasner joked at a debate that he had “spent a career becoming completely unelectable.”

He finished with 75 per cent of the vote.

Krasner ran on a platform of fixing a justice system “systematically” biased against poor people and black people. And he did so with loud support from Black Lives Matter figures.

Some conservatives have disparaged the protest movement as a goalless expression of nothing more than ill-considered anger. Below the national radar, however, the movement’s push to reform local policing and criminal justice has helped produce tangible wins in an increasingly varied range of cities.

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