It was quite the irony when Democrats swept home to victory during the anniversary of Trump’s surprise win in America’s most divisive election. After a year in the wilderness and after hopes were crushed in the early elections, the Democrats have won victories in Virginia and New Jersey. Despite several close runs in the last year, the Democrats needed this win to boost morale and show that they can get back into power.
Predictably, Team Trump was quick to downplay the victory, claiming that the party in power usually suffers and that the states were turning blue anyway. The claims hold some truth, but the manner of delivery indicates real worries and does little to calm Republican fears. The GOP was quick to play the blame game and Trump felt that Gillespie didn’t really share his views. For a while, he didn’t, but as his ratings slipped, he dived into the culture wars that Trump is known for.
In the end, Gillespie was unable to sell ‘Trumpism without Trump’ to the voters and the Democrats are hopeful that this is a precursor for 2018. None of this is to say that the Democrats have it easy. Their internal conflict and the bad blood from 2016 still haunts them, but their woes are nothing compared to the GOP and the woe that is Donald Trump.
If anything, Alabama is going to be a real test for the Democrats. If they can pull off a surprise victory, or at least come close to winning, then they still have a good shot at 2018. Indeed, the very fact that they think they have a shot at winning Alabama, a deep-red state, and safe Republican territory, is an indication of how times have changed.
It’s not so much the state itself as it is about their opponent, Roy Moore. Unlike Gillespie, Moore is a true believer of Trumpism and is basically a carbon copy of the president, barring a few minor details. Doug Jones has a long way to go before he can convince the people of Alabama to rebel against Trump. Even so, a close race is more than Democrats could hope for.
With or without Alabama, Democrats sense that they have the advantage. The victories have given them momentum and the Russian investigation is proving to be a game-changer. Even if Trump gets his tax reform bill through (a possibility that is a 50/50 bet right now), the Democrats can still make life difficult for Republicans with DACA, Iran, the debt ceiling, the border wall and much more.
Of course, to win back Congress, Democrats need to tap into conservative concerns over Trump. The man can only give them so much. They need to provide an alternative vision of the country and give people a reason to choose them over Trump. If nothing else, they need to convince Republican voters that voting for them is the marginally better option right now.
Many Republican politicians are now looking nervously to 2018. For months, they’ve been worrying that they might lose their seats. They are still unsure whether Trump is going to help them keep their seats or lose them. Virginia offers them a bleak picture of the future. They can see the writing on the wall. Expect more moderate Republicans to retire and leave quietly, rather than wait another year for the pummelling.
The Democrats are riding high on the wave of resistance, but there’s a long way to go before we see whether 2018 is the beginning of the end for Trump.