Northam Ran on More Than Trump
In his recent article “Why Ralph Northam lost the Virginia Gubernatorial Election,” Tim Burns outlines a number of, in his view, missed opportunities by the Northam campaign and Democrats against their Republican opponents in statewide races this past November. As a Democrat, it would be very easy to explode in partisan rage or spout off a triggered defense to articles like these. But I prefer careful consideration and am thoroughly convinced that his assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. We should reject it.
According to Burns:
“If Democrats really want to beat Trump, […] they need to make their own way, rather than commenting about how everyone should be appalled by Trump.”
There is a fair amount of national commentary about why the Democratic National Committee (DNC) should position themselves as something more than the anti-Trump party, but the Northam campaign made sure that anti-Trump messaging was not at the expense of expressing the Party’s platform in the Commonwealth. For instance, Northam’s early primary ads easily navigate this space, balancing Northam’s position on gun safety with his, perhaps, heavy handed rebuke of Donald Trump.
Northam’s criticism of ‘Enron Ed’ as Donald Trump’s chief lobbyist later in the race is clearly another example of anti-Trump messaging, but ignoring Northam’s clear messages on gun safety and health care don’t mean they didn’t exist. Maybe voters are tired of hearing about Trump, but that doesn’t mean he was the only thing on which Northam campaigned.
Specifically, Burns states that Northam “singlehandedly made Confederate monuments an issue of the Virginia governor’s race.” I disagree. Because this race doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is worth noting that this was Corey Stewart’s signature issue in the Republican Primary and that Ed Gillespie followed suit (hyperlink so many examples that the reader’s head fucking explodes). While exit polls do show that self-identified Democrats strongly favored their removal over Republicans, Democratic voters responded more strongly to issues like healthcare and gun policy (an issue Northam featured in the early ad linked above).
Voters had good reason to respond to these issues considering the prominence of each and every attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and numerous mass shootings in the news. Northam even kicked off his General Election ad campaign with healthcare. In the end it paid off.
What didn’t pay off for Ed Gillespie was his use of traditional Republican campaign tactics in the Trump Era. Dog-Whistle politics and coded language have been at the center of policies of every major Republican president in modern times from Nixon to Reagan to H.W. Bush. Burns attempts to purify the Republican Party as a whole by invoking the efforts of admirable young Gillespie supporters in his personal network, but he can not editorialize the legacy of Republican Party policies since the Civil Rights Movement. Now that these messages are loud and clear in today’s politics, subliminal messages like Gillespie employed in the gubernatorial campaign were not only rebuffed by Democratic voters, but by Republican strategists and lifers.
In the end, Virginians recognized that any alternatives with an “R” by their names were a lifeline for Trump into Virginia state politics. This response may just be another piece of partisan finger pointing, but it is my intention to revisit the facts of this race without getting lost in a roomful of oversized elephants.