Last night, Republicans were walloped at the ballot box from coast to coast. Ralph Northam won the Virginia governorship for the Democrats, Phil Murphy took back the New Jersey governor’s seat after eight years of GOP control, and down-ballot races in both states look good for team blue. Voters in Maine approved a referendum expanding Medicaid in the state, while in Washington state, a Democratic victory in a key swing district should give the party total majority control of both houses on the state legislature along with the governorship.
There’s no real secret to the nationwide Democratic victories: President Donald Trump is historically unpopular. His administration is shockingly corrupt, two of his top campaign aides were just indicted by a special counsel while a third aide pleaded guilty, his behavior is in turn grotesque, insulting, and authoritarian, most Americans hate his policy priorities, and he’s been unable to get them passed anyway. All this excited Democratic turnout and depressed Republican turnout.
Here in the real world, the president is dragging down his party.
But Trump’s media allies don’t live in the real world. And so, if you turned on Fox last night or this morning, you heard his sycophants saying that the lesson from last night’s Republican wipeout is that the party’s candidates need to hug Trump closer (Trump himself has made the same argument).
On Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite shows, co-host Steve Doocy took issue this morning with the idea that the election results were a “Trump rebuke,” saying of the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, “Neither one of them really brought Donald Trump on board.” “It’s a wake-up call for establishment Republicans,” he added. “If you don’t embrace the leader of your party, why do you want to win and why do you think you can?”
According to Fox host Laura Ingraham last night, Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, lost because “there is no middle ground with conservative populism. … Maybe Gillespie wouldn’t have won if President Trump campaigned with him, but trying to be half-in, half-out was never going to work. If you dip your toe just in a little bit, you’re going to turn out like Ed Gillespie did, political roadkill.” She also suggested that Gillespie should have campaigned more vigorously on keeping up Confederate memorial statues and “law and order.”
Shortly after announcing Northam’s victory last night, Tucker Carlson said, “It's hard to see Ed Gillespie as a Trump candidate.” He took issues with the “stories in the last week about how he was running on the Trump template.”
When Trump’s friends at Fox weren’t blaming Republican candidates for insufficient fealty to the president, they were trying to ignore the news altogether. All Sean Hannity had to say about the results last night was that they did not come in “states Donald Trump won.” The Fox shows spent significant time talking about the president’s speech in North Korea, the dangers of progressive efforts to prevent gun violence, and the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination fight, as well as reminiscing over Trump’s election a year ago.
The GOP is trapped. The party’s leader is historically unpopular among most Americans but remains popular among the base.
And he’s still a hero to the right-wing media apparatus that party leaders count on to excite their voters every Election Day.
Congressional elections are only a year away. Fox’s hosts are signaling that they plan to strap themselves to the mast of Trump’s sinking ship and ride it to the bottom of the ocean. Expect 12 more months of over-the-top coverage of Uranium One, NFL players who protest racial inequality, statues of Confederate heroes, and the perfidy of non-white immigrants and Muslims.
The only question is whether the GOP’s candidates will follow along with their party’s communications arm and cleave to the president. If history is any guide, they will.