Russ: What Happened In Virginia?

By M.D. Russ

On the day after, here are a few thoughts about Virginia’s election results.

First, the Democrats did not win the election; the Republicans lost it.  As the Republican standard-bearer at the head of the ticket, Ed Gillespie committed three fatal errors.

  • He invited Trump to campaign for him, the President with the lowest approval rating in modern history after only ten months in office.  Trump’s low approval rating is not so much a result of his obnoxious personality, bullying, and lying, but because he has failed to deliver on any campaign promises, from building a southern border wall to repealing and replacing ObamaCare to returning manufacturing jobs to the U.S. from overseas. Ed bought into that failure when he invited Trump to appear with him at campaign rallies. By my observation, Gillespie started to decline in the polls after Trump came to Virginia to campaign for him.
  • Gillespie tried the old fear tactic of blaming illegal immigrant gang violence like MS-13 on “sanctuary city” Democratic politics.  The problem is that there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia.  A sanctuary city is one that has passed local laws that counter-act Federal laws on illegal immigrants, such as refusing ICE requests to detain illegals arrested for crimes.  A sanctuary city is not defined simply by the presence of immigrants, legal or illegal.
  • Gillespie bought into the failed Republican promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare.  Millions of Americans have entitlement benefits under the Affordable Health Care Act and, for all its faults, the Republicans have failed to propose an alternative entitlement. And once the government institutes an entitlement program, you cannot take it away without losing elections. Social Security is a case in point. It was launched in 1934 as a safety net for elderly poor.  Today it is a Federal pension program for the middle class.

Second, the Republicans surrendered the voter-rich areas of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Tidewater without a fight. “God, guns, and guts” plays well in the rural southside and southwest, but economic growth, traffic relief, and good public education is what excites voters in the voter-rich areas.  Cutting taxes for transportation improvements and diverting public school money to Christian academy school vouchers doesn’t get you votes there.

Third, the Republicans continue to send contradictory messages. Individual liberty and personal freedom are not enhanced by government restrictions on issues ranging from hunting on Sundays to having an abortion, the latter having been the law of the land for almost 50 years and continuing to be supported as such by the most conservative Supreme Court since the Great Depression.

Virginia is not so much turning blue as it is becoming anti-red. And that, along with Donald Trump in the White House, is why we had a record voter turn-out Tuesday despite awful weather conditions.

  • Shaun Kenney

    Well said, MD Russ… very well said.

    • MD Russ


  • mikestark

    I’d sure like to see pictures of Trump and Gillespie together at a campaign rally.

    (Hint: they don’t exist; the two never campaigned together)

    • MD Russ

      Quibbling. It was well-reported in the media that the Gillespie Campaign approached the White House seeking Trump’s support. Trump repeatedly Tweeted in favor of Gillespie, appeared in Virginia, and VP Mike Pence appeared with Gillespie at campaign rallies.

    • MD Russ

      Lowell Feld is recommending a comment by a Trumpster on Bearing Drift? Now I have seen it all.

  • Zman72

    What you say is accurate but why all the shock and surprise? The R’s were never ahead in any poll at any time during this race for any of the three state-wide offices that I can recall. The real blood bath was in the House of Delegates and I think most of that was due to the anti-republican phenomenon you mentioned. I look for a lot of Republican’s to retire before the next election.

    • MD Russ

      I must agree. Many Republicans will either retire or be voted out like Sideshow Bob Marshall was. That was the point of my op-ed: the old Republican formula won’t work in Virginia anymore. The GOP must adapt or die.

      • Ron Frazier

        You mean continue to slide in the direction of Democrat regular and Democrat light? That does not work.

        • MD Russ

          Democratic regular and Democratic light worked on Tuesday, Ron.

          • Ron Frazier

            No, it didn’t. The voters rejected democrat light. Republican’s do well when they remember they’re supposed to be conservative. “You just can’t count on supposed to be the way you used to could.”

          • MD Russ

            Is that you Donald? Gillespie was Democrat light when he campaigned for school vouchers, reduced taxes for infrastructure, and increased immigration enforcement?

          • Ron Frazier

            Why am I wasting time on this? I guess I need crayons to draw pictures for you?. You are AGREEING with me. The voters REJECTED democrat light by rejecting Ed Gillespie. What qualifications does one need to post articles on this site anyway?

          • MD Russ

            True conservatives always win, Ron. That explains the landslide victories of former Governors Jerry Kilgore and Ken Cuccinelli.

          • Ron Frazier

            Jerry Kilgore was attacked in the media if for nothing else his “twang”. Ken Cuccinelli was attacked by the republican establishment. You know, I didn’t sign on to educate you Mr. Ross. Again I have to question the low standards of “Bearing Drift.”

          • MD Russ

            Then why are you reading here? And it is Russ, not Ross. So much for high reading comprehension standards. I respectfully suggest that you spend your time on more intellectual sites such as Breitbart.

          • Ron Frazier

            I will seriously consider that Ross. Why would you comment on reading comprehension when the difference is understanding politics vs a typo? Huh Ross?

          • Turtles Run

            Ron – Gillespie campaigned on a platform based on cutting taxes, vouchers, and scary minorities. How in the bloody heck is that Democrat-lite? Gillespie sold his soul to the far right and he got his arse handed to him because he tried to be Trump-lite.

            Just so I am clear if Corey Stewart was the nominee the election would have been called at 7:01 for Ralph Northam.

            Matt Suarez

          • Chuck Geer

            Same thing for Laura Ingraham.

  • Ron Frazier

    The dems were able to expose the fact that Ed was a swamper. I don’t like Northam, probably never will. The fact is though he worked at the lower levels of elected office and earned his stripes without getting into legal trouble. Ed, is a start at the top kind of guy, that only seems to work for the dems; Chuck Robb, Mark Warner, Lil Timmy Kaine etc. The media will not stand for it in a republican.

  • Guy Cabot

    Your last paragraph concedes low turnout is key to GOP success. IOW, it’s an admission GOP ideas don’t enjoy popular support

    Once more, Trump is a symptom, not the cause of your woes. For about 40 years, the GOP has worked toward this point. Surely, you must have seen this coming for years. At the most recent CPAC, you nearly had a speaker who thought pedophilia was just fine. Pizza and child sex rings? Birtherism? Body counts? Where are your leaders?

    • MD Russ


      You seem to think that I am a Republican. I am not and have been a committed Independent for most of my adult life. However, neither major party has a monopoly on nutty ‘leaders.’ Have you forgotten about Bill Clinton and the semen stains on an intern’s blue dress that he never had sex with? Or about the Senator from Massachusetts who claimed Native American heritage to gain an academic preference? Or how about the Congressman from New York, married to Hillary’s top aide, who liked to send pictures of his erections to minor girls?

      • Guy Cabot

        Sorry, but Warren did not gain the academic preference you claim. Additionally, it’s not been established she isn’t of Native American descent. Bill Clinton had an affair and Anthony Weiner is a criminal. When Weiner runs for office again as a Dem, you’ll have a point. But not now.

        The issue being elided is the GOP are running candidates they know are unfit. And they’re using campaign tactics designed to appeal to to the worst of and in us. Your colleague, Ms Steele, appeared in a TV ad illustrating this fact. You’ve seen it. A Gov. Ralph Northam is going to release hordes of child molesters on Virginians. Do you think Ms Steele is going to abandon her law practice and GOP activism to move her family far from VA so as to avoid the onslaught?

        Trump basically said last night that Trumpism cannot fail; it can only be failed. Nothing I’ve seen from the GOP indicates a willingness to change course by its leaders or it adherents.

  • Chuck Geer

    “First, the Democrats did not win the election; the Republicans lost it.” Merle, I have to disagree with you here. The Democrats most certainly DID win this election. Gillespie fired up his base; look at Southwest Virginia. Problem was, Northam got HIS base more fired up.

    If Ken Cuccinelli got as many votes as Gillespie did last night, he would have easily defeated Terry McAulliffe four years ago.

  • Chuck Geer

    Merle, even though I took issue with one thing you said here, I think you are spot-on in your analysis. Republicans will never work as a white nationalist party. They HAVE to change their ways.

  • Scoob

    VA’s Conservative Voice? Really? Hate to hear VA moderate squish voice.

  • Chad Parker

    Your assessment, “Democrats did not win the election, Republicans lost it” is contradicted by the facts: Gillespie received more votes than any other Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history. The voters turned out. They didn’t lose.

    Democrats won by capitalizing on anti-Trump momentum. Granted, the anti-immigrant ads didn’t help and only created more momentum.

    But I’d put that on Gillespie’s CM, Chris Leavitt, not the party as a whole. Has he stuck to message of jobs and policy, Northam would have been seen as the empty candidate he was. Think Deeds and the McDonell thesis in 2009: even the Dems stopped caring, but that’s all he had. But Leavitt got scared and went negative.

    Blame it on Leavitt and his inexperience, with no significant win under his belt. Blame it on Ed’s loyalty to Chris and his brother when he failed to demote him after the abysmal primary. But don’t blame it on the party.

    • Chad Parker

      That said, I’ll add that if Corey Stewart is the nominee for Senate, Tim Kaine will be reelected in a landslide.

    • Richard Statman

      Agree with the thought about CM
      That primary was like Rod Serling said
      A signpost of the twilight zone ahead for the campaign.

  • Richard Statman

    Appreciate the post
    I saw Gillespie as a tired l very tired figure, not sure
    To call him a politician , who has basically run for office
    Non stop for several years , winning nothing.
    At a time where many of our social , cultural , educational
    And political institutions seem embedded with progressive thought
    My view is Gillespie was the very wrong candidate 2x regardless
    Of the final results in each.
    It is difficult to appreciate how large donors, political action
    Committees , local elected officials could be comfortable letting
    Gillespie front the enterprise 2x , probably had second thoughts
    After the primary embarrassment , and the Charlottesville moment
    Turned the landscape upside down on their view of things.
    Like an aging batter way past his prime swinging at pitches
    When they were already past him, Gillespie seemed unwilling,
    Or unable or ill advised on what to do.
    Looked like a guy who just stepped out of the tall grass to see
    A brave new world he was ill equipped to deal with.
    That’s my view of it all.

  • mezurak

    Oh Mister Russ, you sure nailed that one. (clap, clap, clap)
    Your treatise is unequivocally the most profound grouping of words ever presented here on Bearing Drift.

    Bravo, bravo sir!

  • old_redneck

    What happened in Virgina? Of the fifteen Republican men who lost their seats in the House of Delegates, 11 were replaced by women.

  • DJRippert

    Demographics are destiny:

    2017 governor’s election – Virginia is 67% white
    2013 governor’s election – Virginia is 72% white
    2009 governor’s election – Virginia is 78% white (last Republican winner)

    Population growth in USA (1970 – 2010): 1.03% (CAGR)
    Population growth in Virginia (1970 – 2010): 1.37% (CAGR)
    Population growth in Henrico County (1970 – 2010): 1.74% (CAGR)
    Population growth in Fairfax County (1970 – 2010): 2.19% (CAGR)

    Virginia is becoming more urban and less white. While there may be some way to attract more non-whites to the Republican Party (especially Asians), there is no way to get conservative Republican candidates to appeal to urban voters. The urban areas are growing quickly while the rural areas are shrinking. Republicans have lost the once safe counties of Loudoun and Henrico. Meanwhile, Chesterfield (with the same population density as Fairfax County in 1960) was a dead heat between Northam and Gillespie. Within another 10 years Chesterfield will be blue too.

    The gerrymandering of the House of Delegates districts helped stave off total defeat. However, the next Census is 3 years away and if the Dems control the House of Delegates by then it will be game, set, match for the RPV.

    The best hope for conservatives in Virginia is a take down of Dillon’s Rule in time to devolve power from the state to the localities. At least those living in conservative counties and cities would have some protection against the sweeping influence of Democratic socialism from Richmond.

    • Eric the half a troll

      Dillon Rule should be taken down regardless if ideology.

  • Chris

    Nice to see you with a featured piece, Russ. Well done!

    • MD Russ

      Thanks. You will see me here as a regular contributor to Bearing Drift in the future. I’m looking forward to both the compliments and the barbs. Ideological tripe annoys me, but constructive criticism never fails to inform me.

  • SJane

    As an Independent, reflexing on and knowing many of the Virginia Voters in NOVA; at least 4-5 counties heavily turned-out by Dems +, it clearly stated that the Federal Gov. Employees and Fed. Gov. Contractors wanted to continue in their jobs and keep their salaries. Trump was for reducing Fed. Gov., Bureaus, and fewer contractors, this DID NOT sit well w/many Gen X employees, and the millennials that Voted Dem. This was a denouncement of Trump policies and plans re: Fed. workers. Virginia has been a Democrat bastions for ages…

  • hpd929

    The big question about the piece: are the claims made actually based on evidence? Or are they just a rehash of the author’s long-held opinions about the party, which he will raise in the event of any loss?

    First of all, as we know the party that won the Presidency the previous year has won the VA’s governor’s race 75% of the time since 1969. So there’s that.

    Second, Trump is the President. Lots of Republicans voted for him. What would you propose Ed do? Swear an oath to oppose anything Trump does? I’d also like to see actual evidence that Trump’s interventions made a difference. Which campaign appearance are you talking about? Include specific dates, please, so we can look for the effect that you claim it had on polls.

    Running against the President is the standard opposition move (e.g., 2006 and 2010). In a divided state, or a state of the opposite political persuasion, it doesn’t usually make a difference if the candidate of the President’s party latches on to to the President or runs from him. The result is almost always a loss in either case.

    Finally, we know that MD Russ is pro-abortion and is bothered that most of the GOP is anti-abortion. There is literally no evidence that the GOP is hurt by its position on abortion at all. Just because it makes the party unpopular where Russ lives does not mean that it makes the party unpopular overall. This is a long-time obsession, though, and so it’s not surprising that he brings it up after every loss.

    Bob McDonnell had the same position on abortion (or, for that matter, school vouchers) as Ed. As I recall, he did pretty well in Fairfax and its environs.

    • MD Russ

      It is not that I am pro-abortion, hpd929. Personally, I wish that abortion was limited to occasions of medical necessity and rape or incest and not allowed as a means of contraception. However, that is not what our Constitution dictates, as interpreted by almost a half century of Supreme Court justices. I am always dismayed by elected officials who swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution” but who then turn around and attempt to subvert it with anti-abortion gimmicks ranging from clinic sanitation standards to transvaginal ultrasounds. No, hpd929, I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-Constitution.

      • hpd929

        I guess I think too much like a lawyer. I recognize what is obvious to just about every lawyer, which is that judges do not simply “interpret” the law. Nobody noticed this abortion clause in the Constitution for 100 years, but then some judges decided that the laws needed reform, and that was that. (Read Woodward’s The Brethren for an account of the drafting of the opinion. Even the liberal clerks were stunned by how much the process resembled a legislative negotiation.) The same thing was true in 1992; Anthony Kennedy changed his vote late in the process (see Toobin’s The Nine). The Court is essentially a legislature and there is nothing illegitimate about refusing to accept a stupid decision that it makes.

        Most politicians understand this: that is why the GOP reacted as it did to the Dred Scott decision, and why the Democrats reacted as they did to the decisions striking down New Deal legislation.

        • MD Russ

          It is ironic that you mention Dred Scott in the same comment about judges legislating from the bench, as if all judicial decisions are flawed on the basis of a few bad ones. I would point out to you numerous examples of when bad judicial precedent was corrected by subsequent decisions. Plessy v. Ferguson as reversed by Brown v. Board immediately comes to mind. But Roe v. Wade has survived without reversal or modification for over 44 years.

          Tell us, counselor. If judges cannot interpret the law, then who can?

          • hpd929

            It’s funny that you mention Plessy, considering that it lasted just fine for longer than Roe (58 years). Roe was modified substantially by Casey, has been subsequently modified and will continue to be modified. Brown and its progeny were modified as a result of the 1968 election. Politics affects law.

            The legal realist view, which I share, has long been that in many cases there is no “law” to interpret, and so judges have no choice but to make decisions on other bases. Why do you think that the plaintiffs in Roe brought their case in the late 1960s? Why didn’t they bring it in the 1930s or 40s or 50s? They waited until they thought they could win. They couldn’t win earlier because they knew that the position was more marginal prior to the 1960s/70s.

  • Bobby

    Awesome! Great stuff, but my favorite has to be the idea of “liberty”….we continually see that in those trying to relitigate gay marriage and voting for nonsense like keeping co-habitation punishable by law.

    • hpd929

      Yes, that’s why Ed lost. That old issue of cohabitation.

      • Bobby

        Didn’t say that, Champ. He makes great points about the hypocrisy however….enough folks see this over years and years and yes, you will lose a few votes

        • hpd929

          It was a huge drag on the party last year, in 2014, etc.

  • Scott Lee

    Should the Republicans abandon the ideas of school choice and the pro-life platform because “it doesn’t get you votes there?” Should the Republicans simply offer another health care “entitlement program” different the current one? Maybe the Republicans could run as, I don’t know, say…….. Democrats.

  • David Eggleston

    While I thought the sanctuary city crap was a bridge too far, Mayor Stoney has been talking about it. Luckily, Richmond City Council is too smart to vote on something like that.

    While we agree on a lot of things that must change going forward, I don’t think any issues really mattered this time. This was referendum on Trump. There were plenty of Republicans who voted the straight Democratic ticket to protest Trump. Northam has a reputation of being a moderate, fiscally-responsible Democrat, they ignored the crazy rhetoric of the last two weeks, and they pulled the lever for him. Downballot races were just collateral damage.

  • David Obermark

    I voted for Northam based on a preponderance of the issues. I held my nose while voting for him on the immigration issue. My sampling of like minded voters yielded agreement. The progressive Democratic coalition can not win against the correct Republican candidate. The Democrat must make promises to the coalition to win the nomination. The Republican nominee just needs to better represent the majority of Virginians. That should not be too hard.

  • mark Jawsz

    Good article, MD. As someone who has been regularly and proudly hung out to dry on these pages because of my stance on CERTAIN immigrants, I have to agree with you that the MS-13 and sanctuary city themes were going nowhere. First and foremost, as everyone has said, there are no sanctuary cities in VA and MS-13 primarily preys on its own demographic. But I do disagree about school vouchers. That can be a winning issue because our public schools for the most part SUCK. And they SUCK even more if your child is poor and black. The GOP should frame school vouchers not as a chance to send children to Christian schools, but to send them to schools that are less likely to fail them. THAT would work.

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