Did Trump have any effect on Virginia elections?
Did Trump have any effect on Virginia elections?

First, the issue of ballots.

It is an inevitable tradition for the winners in an election claim victory and expand the meaning of victories as omens of a successful future.  Conversely, losers will minimize the losses, explaining that there were unique situations and portend nothing for the future.  Last Tuesday’s elections were not an exception to those understandable reactions.  The serious political analysts will look past the partisan talking points for the real meanings. 

First, there are those gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey – one that was the subject of almost daily pre-election news and the other almost totally ignored by the press.  The latter garnered little attention because it was a foregone conclusion from the get-go.  Chris Christie was an anomaly in New Jersey – a brash tough-talking Republican in a very blue state.  The only significance of New Jersey is that it was a pick-up for the Democrats.

Virginia was more interesting because there was a perception that Republican Ed Gillespie actually had a chance, and he did come much closer than he should have.  Why is that?  First of all, Virginia is a blue state, not the purple state as many commentators suggest.  It was carried by Obama twice and even by Clinton in her losing presidential bid.  It has two Democrat U.S. senators.  One of them, Tim Kaine, was Clinton’s vice presidential running mate.  Outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe is a Democrat.  The odds of Gillespie winning this race were virtually insurmountable.

Many pundits still describe Virginia as a southern state, alluding to a modern tradition of southern states to trend Republican and conservative.  That is no longer true.  Virginia has aligned itself with the northeast establishment blue states, and there is one reason for that.  Northern Virginia, like Maryland, is on the border of Washington, D.C. and the bedroom communities for the liberal big government bureaucrats that have multiplied like gerbils since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal socialism.  The federal employment of less than 500,000 when FDR sat in the Oval Office now exceeds more than 2 million – and a whole bunch of these folks are now living and voting in Virginia.

The question is, did Trump affect these elections.  No, in New Jersey.  Yes, in Virginia.  Rabid Trump hatred among the deep state bureaucrats energized the vote in northern Virginia.  They came out in droves.  Did it affect the outcome?  Probably not.  An unlikely Gillespie victory would have been a stunner with all kinds of negative ramifications for the Democrats.  The Trump factor may have improved the spread for Northam.  After all, the 53/45 percent win by Northam was not nearly as close as many predicted.

In and of themselves, the New Jersey and Virginia governor races mean very little in terms of future trends.  Democrats won in states they could hardly lose.  The real significance is in all those local races.  In those, the mood of the voters is more telling, and it is not good news for Trump or the Republicans.  For the first time since 2010, the grassroots groundswell of voter support for the GOP has been blunted.  Republican incumbents lost scores of seats in what were considered fairly safe GOP districts. It would appear that Trump has done something the Democrats have tried and failed to do for years and that is to make local races a national referendum. The election was a blow to the political gadfly Steve Bannon’s strategy of empowering a new nationalist ruling class.

Most striking are the dozens of offices won by Democrat socialist candidates endorsed by Our Revolution (Bernie Sanders) and the Democratic Socialists of America. This included defeating House Majority Whip Jackson Miller, the second-highest ranking Republican in Virginia.  These results are in line with recent polls that indicate fully half of the Millennials have a favorable view of socialism.

To be fair, it needs to be understood that the party of first-term presidents usually suffer setbacks in subsequent elections.  Certainly that tradition played in favor of the Democrats.  But Trump appears to have pumped adrenalin in that tradition just as he tamped down the Republican vote in 2016 – costing him a win in the popular vote.

Looking at the overall election results, one can only conclude that Trump is steering the GOP into troubled waters.  Partly due to his pugnacious personality and partly due to the unceasing unprecedented and unfair media attacks on all things Trump, Republican and conservative, the President’s personality is now trumping his more popular policies.  What was once partisan bragging and wishful thinking about a Democrat wave election in 2018 is now a potential reality.

And now about bullets.

In the wake of the tragic murders of 26 innocent people – including young children – during Sunday services in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the debate over gun control once again comes to the fore.  As expected, the liberal community takes to the airwaves to express their frustration that “nothing is being done” to prevent these heinous crimes.

In the extreme, they call for banning all private ownership of guns, but that view is not embraced by even most control advocates.  Most opinions expressed by the left suggest “something” must be done to control guns, but short of confiscation they are generally unable to offer any suggestions that would solve the problem – or would have prevented the atrocities that provoke their call to no arms, so to speak. 

The anti-gun liberals characterize Second Amendment advocates as a bunch of heartless, trigger-happy sociopaths and the National Rifle Association (NRA) as an all-powerful lobby that dictates irresponsible gun policy to a compliant Congress – including a lot of those liberal legislators they otherwise admire.  Neither characterization is accurate.  Most Second Amendment supporters are wonderful people and great Americans, and the NRA does not own Congress, as is alleged, but they do enjoy enormous support among the general public. 

There may be marginal actions that can tweak current gun laws – such as banning bump stocks (supported by the NRA) or tightening background checks – but even those measures would not have prevented the mass murders that triggered the debate.  They would not prevent the rampages of individual murders that occur in cities like Chicago and Baltimore.  They would not reduce the general gun death rate across the nation in any given year. As the left is want to do, they see victory in ineffective symbolic measures.

What the left does not realize, or is unwilling to admit, the gun is not the primary problem.  Owning a gun is never a motivation to kill.  It may be one of many instruments of murder, but not the motive – and that is an essential distinction.  Any law enforcement official will tell you that motive is the key element to understanding and preventing murders.  The means of murder – in this case, the gun -- is incidental in seeking the all-important cause.

The tragic Texas church shooting did not occur because of a lack of preventative laws.  It occurred because the existing laws were inadvertently not obeyed – in this case by the Air Force.  They missed two opportunities to put the killer on the national registry of banned gun ownership – once for his bad conduct discharge based on a felonious assault on his wife and child and again for his commitment and escape from a mental institution.  The church shooting did not happen because of the absence of law but because of a failure to follow the law.

 As were some cases in the past, the murderous rampage was ended by an armed citizen.   That is not an insignificant point.  I do not carry or own a gun.  If I was in a public arena with my loved ones when a shooter arrived on the scene, I would hope and pray that at least one person in that crowd would have a gun.  I cannot believe that even the most ardent anti-gun activist would feel differently in such a situation. 

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com

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