The GOP’s Suburban Collapse

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Supporters celebrate news that Ralph Northam has won the gubernatorial election, during the election night party at George Mason University in Fairfax on November 7.

Three years ago, when he ran for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Mark Warner, Republican politician Ed Gillespie carried the big Washington, D.C., semi-suburban, semi-exurban Loudoun County by a narrow margin. Last night, running for governor against Democrat Ralph Northam, he lost it by 20 percentage points.

The Loudoun result epitomizes the Revolt of the Anti-Trump suburbs, which not only yielded a surprisingly large 9-point victory for Northam but may even have enabled the Democrats to win a majority, or come damned close to it, in the commonwealth’s House of Delegates—which required a pick-up of 17 seats in the 100-seat house. No one was expecting that.

To be sure, Gillespie won by Trumpian margins in Virginia’s rural southwest, but like most of rural America, this is a region that is losing population even as the suburbs and exurbs continue to grow. It’s a white working-class region, where Republicans still thrive, but in Virginia, as in most states, Republicans still have to run well in the more populous suburbs if they’re to win statewide. They didn’t do that last night: Not only did Northam pile up huge margins in Northern Virginia’s suburbs, but that’s also where the Democrats made most of their House of Delegates pick-ups. The most prominent of these was the victory of Danica Roem, who will become Virginia’s first transgender legislator, having defeated longtime GOP delegate and self-professed homophobe Robert Marshall. But no less unlikely was the victory of Democrat Lee Carter, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, in the district adjoining Roem’s.

After the Third Battle of Bull Run, Manassas will now be represented in Richmond by one transgender delegate and one socialist delegate.

Yesterday’s election has got to send shock waves through Republican ranks, and nowhere more deeply than in the GOP’s congressional delegation. In last night’s vote, Northam carried college-educated white voters—a constituency that suburban Republicans simply can’t win without, and particularly in midterm elections, when such voters are the most overrepresented in the electorate. For Republicans such as the four who come from California’s Orange County, all of whose districts were carried last year by Hillary Clinton, Virginia’s results make for grim reading. Even before the polls closed, the most endangered of those four, Darrell Issa, announced yesterday that he wouldn’t vote for the Republican tax reform bill, since its proposed elimination of the state tax deduction and scaling back of the property tax deduction would likely prove very costly to his constituents. I would expect more Republicans who represent suburbs in high-tax states to reject that bill in days to come. If they were on the fence, yesterday’s voting may well decide the issue for them.

For all that currently divides Democrats, last night’s results, and not just in Virginia, demonstrated that the various wings of the party can come together at the polls. And that just as Republicans were united in their opposition to Barack Obama, Democrats, for all their divisions, are united in their opposition to—and in their utterly justifiable fear and loathing of—Donald Trump. That’s a huge advantage going into 2018.

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