Last week a Democratic candidate won the governorship in a blue state, and Democrats are suddenly the overindulgent mom who hangs a C+ on the refrigerator. They’re the obnoxious football player who spikes the ball in celebration of a four-yard gain while his team trails by five touchdowns. A couple of off-year elections go their way, and suddenly they’re Ricky Henderson grabbing the mic and declaring, “Today, I am the greatest of all time!”
Ralph Northam’s win in the Virginia governor’s race over Republican Ed Gillespie was no surprise, but Democrats and their left-wing media pom-pom shakers are calling it a wave election, a rejection of Trumpism, and a sign of things to come. Mainstream analysis of the race leaves the reader feeling like Northam won the presidency and both houses of Congress, appointed four liberal justices to the Supreme Court, found Shakespeare’s missing plays, outlawed pumpkin spice flavoring, pulled Excalibur from a stone, and rescued Will from the Upside Down.
This overreaction to a minor victory says much more about the Left than their ability to turn a blue state blue. They need to learn a simple political axiom I call the “Kasich Congruence.” It goes like this: “Make sure the quantity of your confetti matches the magnitude of your accomplishment.” Ignore this rule, and you may end up looking like John Kasich when he won Ohio in the GOP primaries — celebrating an empty victory in a Super Bowl-sized confetti storm.
Eric Bradner at CNN called it “The Blue Wave” and declared that “Trumpism without Trump didn’t work.” Vanity Fair said, “‘Virginia Wipeout’ Proves Trumpism Could Be Fatal.” The Washington Post said, “‘Trumpism without Trump’ Lost in Virginia.” This off-year Democratic victory has The Week’s Paul Waldman imagining Democratic victories as far off as 2021.
Trump has a way of making people break the Kasich Congruence. Remember when Marco Rubio finished third in the Iowa caucus and then delivered his victory speech? “We did it!” Or when the Los Angeles Times projected Hillary Clinton would win 352 electoral votes? Or when Trump finished second in Iowa and David Brooks declared it the end of Trump’s candidacy?
“Make sure the quantity of your confetti matches the magnitude of your accomplishment.”
Trump was mocked for tweeting, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.” Analysts don’t want to hear that Ed Gillespie did worse than Trump in Virginia because he wasn’t Trumpy enough, even though Gillespie’s resume reads like Okefenokee meets Dagobah: former chair of the RNC, former adviser to Romney and Bush; co-founder (along with Karl Rove) of shadow super PAC American Crossroads.
Trump’s tweet was mocked even though before the election most analysts noted that Gillespie was distancing himself from Trump. When Gillespie finally shifted toward Trump, The Washington Post reacted with surprise, stating that “Since launching his bid for Virginia governor, the Establishment Republican had treated the man in the White House like a Voldemortian unmentionable.”
But how can we know for sure whether Gillespie was too Trumpy or not Trumpy enough? If only there were a control variable — a candidate on the exact same Virginia ticket who was voted on by the exact same electorate but who fully embraced Trumpism. Then we could compare that candidate’s results to Ed Gillespie’s results. Surprise! There was a Trumpier candidate on the exact same ticket, voted on by the exact same electorate! It was Jill Vogel, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Vogel openly supported Trump for president way back in the summer of 2016. On the campaign trail, she said, “We are going to take back Virginia the way the president is going to take back this country.” She even triggered Democrats across the state when she accused her Democratic opponent of not being able to “talk intelligently” on certain issues. The Washington Post ran a piece in October contrasting Vogel’s style with Gillespie’s. The article stated that while Gillespie “can look uncomfortable with any association with Trump,” Vogel “is running for lieutenant governor in the drain-the-swamp style of President Trump.”
According to amateur political scientist Chris Cillizza at CNN, “The story of the race — and Trump’s drag on Gillespie — can be told in the vote count in two counties: Loudoun and Chesterfield.” The idea of the analysis is that Gillespie performed worse than 2016 Trump in those counties, ergo Trump dragged him down. But wait! Guess who he didn’t drag down in those counties. Vogel! While Gillespie did worse than Trump in those counties, Vogel’s numbers were nearly identical to Trump’s in both counties. Why didn’t he drag her down, too? In fact, if you believe the conventional wisdom, he should have dragged her down more.
Yet, Trump and Vogel both won massive Virginia Beach county while Gillespie lost it by a full 5 percent. Trump and Vogel similarly outperformed Gillespie in a number of counties including Bath, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Chesapeake, Farquier, Franklin and others.
Gillespie lost Virginia by 8.9 percent, but Vogel only lost by 5.4 percent, the exact same margin Trump lost the state by in 2016.
Vogel’s outperformance of Gillespie, and its strong correlation to Trump’s 2016 performance, fly in the face of the mainstream analysis. The real takeaway — when you don’t pretend that Jill Vogel never existed — is that the Vogel’s actual Trumpism elicited the same electoral response as Trump’s did in 2016, while Gillespie’s phony, half-hearted Trumpism failed miserably.
Translation: Trumpism is alive and well; it’s Gillespie-ism that’s dead.