Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was in damage control mode on Wednesday morning, insisting that Democrat Ralph Northam’s victory in Virginia over Ed Gillespie was just business as usual — despite saying yesterday that the RNC was “all in” on Virginia.
“Ed’s finishing strong, he’s putting forward a positive vision for Virginia,” McDaniel told Fox’s Harris Faulkner on Tuesday. “The President’s been all in with Ed, he’s tweeted about it today, dropped robo-calls into the state yesterday, and today he’s been pushing his voters to get out and support Ed Gillespie.”
“At the RNC, we’ve been all in in Virginia,” she continued. “We’ve knocked 3 million doors. I feel very good about our ground game. We’re going to continue to do that in all these battleground states.”
Hours later, however, McDaniel had a decidedly different spin on things when she appeared on Fox News, describing Northam’s subsequent gubernatorial victory as “back to status quo.”
“[Democrats] should have won Virginia, they should have won New Jersey,” she added, flipping Virginia from a battleground to solid blue in 24 hours.
McDaniel’s comments come as President Trump makes a concentrated effort to distance himself from Gillespie following the Democratic sweep in Virginia and New Jersey. In Virginia’s House of Delegates, Democrats won 13 seats, their largest gains in over a century; the party also saw several down-ballot victories — including a vote in Maine to expand Medicaid.
The president on Wednesday quickly backtracked on his previous support for Gillespie, saying that he “didn’t embrace me or what I stand for.” He also refused to accept any blame for Gillespie’s defeat, despite his own dismal approval ratings in Virginia and the fact that one in three voters voted for Northam to express their opposition to Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump cheerleaders and Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham also backed away from covering the defeat on air.
.@EdWGillespie will totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance of VA. MS-13 and crime will be gone. Vote today, ASAP!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2017
Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 8, 2017
Throughout the campaign, Gillespie tried to use the same racially-charged rhetoric that Trump employed so successfully during the presidential election to drum up votes. Gillespie ran attack ads dishonestly tying Northam to violent MS-13 gang members, and supported the movement to keep Confederate monuments in the state. Polling has since shown that Gillespie’s fear-mongering actually backfired, and may have even helped energize Democratic constituents to head to the polls.
Gillespie’s defeat signals a larger problem for Republicans in 2018, many of whom are deciding whether or not to embrace Trump’s rhetoric and risk energizing the Democratic base, or run on more traditional grounds and isolate themselves from the party. Compounding the problem, a growing number of GOP lawmakers are saying they won’t seek re-election in 2018, adding the possibility of more Democratic challengers or right-wing insurgents moving in as future elections draw near.
Despite the temptation, some in the Republican Party are warning political hopefuls against swinging too far right, noting that to do so would have dire consequences.
“Trumpism is a cancer that will end your political career and steal your honor if you embrace it,” John Weaver, top strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the Daily Beast. “I fear 2018 will be such a shellacking that it will be the true wake-up call.”