- - Wednesday, November 8, 2017


The Republicans can’t say they didn’t deserve the spanking they got Tuesday night. The results in Virginia in particular were a wake-up call, and the Republicans have a talent for sleeping through the noise of an alarm clock. The Grumpy Old Party was cruising for a bruising, and it got one. Did the elephant learn anything?

The results mirrored what happened to the Democrats in 2010, when voters severely rebuked the liberal excesses of a new Democratic president, Barack Obama, and Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House, six seats in the U.S. Senate and six governorships. Republicans with sore bottoms this year can take some solace that these were not the off-year congressional elections, but odd-year elections devoted mostly to state offices.

The Democratic recovery of the governorship in New Jersey this time was hardly a surprise; Chris Christie, the Republican governor who was once regarded as a strong presidential prospect, is deeply unpopular. He lost a lot of weight in anticipation of a presidential campaign, and all for nothing. The depth and breadth of the Democratic vote in Virginia was stunning. Democrats not only captured all three major state offices — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — but may have won control of the state Senate by picking up at least 15 legislative seats. One of those seats was even won by a woman who used to be a man, ousting a 13-term incumbent.

Qualifications and experience clearly didn’t matter to many voters in Virginia, and ticket-splitters took Tuesday off. All that mattered was that a candidate have a “D” and not an “R” next to his or her name on the ballot. Republican fears that Virginia can now be considered a blue state, since they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009, are sharp and real.

The conventional wisdom is that Tuesday’s vote was a referendum on the president, and the conventional wisdom is not always wrong. Mr. Trump, no surprise, is having no part of that. “Ed Gillespie worked hard, but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” the president tweeted from Asia barely two hours after the polls closed half a world away. “Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats [in special elections], and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!” If Mr. Trump actually believes that, he is fooling nobody but himself.

The president, who usually thinks everything is about him, is probably right this time. The results of Tuesday were all about him. What the Tuesday results portend depends on whether the president and the Republicans have learned anything and whether Democrats can keep their anger aimed in the right direction for another 12 months. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week suggests that if the 2016 election were replayed today, Mr. Trump would still defeat Hillary Clinton. But such an election will not be replayed, and there won’t be Hillary to run against next time.

Many voters on Tuesday said they went to a lot of trouble to give Republicans the opportunity they’ve been clamoring for, an opportunity to drain the swamp and fix things. If House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell enact tax reform they might get another chance. If not, there’s a real pain coming to the party with a mouth bigger than its muscle.

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