What Trump Has Wrought: Virginia Edition

by D.J. McGuire (who lives and votes in Virginia)

Last year, as my fellow MPU podcasters inquired as to why Donald Trump’s nomination would be enough for me to leave the Republican Party, I cited the Goldwater effect to explain how one campaign can change a party, permanently. The Republican nominee in 1960 (before Goldwater) ran on the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, and was bitterly disappointed to have won roughly one in three African-American votes. The Republican nominee in 1968 (after Goldwater) ran on a “Southern strategy”, and was largely content with having won barely one in eight African-American votes. The nominee in both years was the same man: Richard Nixon.

As it happens, a similar example has been revealed in Virginia: Ed Gillespie.

Gillespie is both the last candidate to lead a Virginia Republican ticket before Trump (as U.S. Senate nominee in 2014) and the first to lead a Virginia Republican ticket after Trump (as nominee for Governor this year). The differences – in the same man, again – are striking (and painful).

The Gillespie of 2014 was open to immigration reform (Politifact). He had innovative ideas to address health insurance (Real Clear Markets). He ran against the corporatist bonanza that is the Export-Import Bank (Bearing Drift). This Ed Gillespie – the one focused on economic issues, and serious about how to reduce government’s size, scope, and cost in voter-friendly ways – was the face of what the post-Obama GOP could have been. He nearly scored the upset of the year, coming around 1% shy of defeating Senator Mark Warner. He (Gillespie) also earned my vote in the process.

The contrast with 2017 Ed Gillespie is heartbreaking.

Gillespie ’17 has replaced well-thought out economic policy with a tax cut so caveat-ridden it will never get enacted (see my earlier analysis of it here). Once he was nominated, his campaign devolved into a tripartite homage to the resentments of the Trumpenproletariat:  venerating every Confederate monument in the Commonwealth as iconography; implying that every Hispanic immigrant is an MS-13 gang member; and implying that every former prisoner seeking to have their voting rights restored is a sex offender.

For the average voter, Gillespie 2017 is an insult to the intelligence. For an economic conservative like myself, it reaffirms the Nixon example of just how much an unexpected presidential nominee can change the nature of a political party.

In Virginia, the party’s ticket was led in 2014 by a serious-minded thinker. Today, it’s led by a lowest-common-denominator hustler of snake oil. That the leader of the GOP’s Virginia ticket in 2014 and in 2017 is the very same man says all one needed to know about how badly Trump has toxified the Republican Party.

As for me, it is all the more reason I am voting Democratic on November 7.

D.J. McGuire is the conservative Democrat on More Perfect Union podcast – and sometimes feels like he is the lone conservative Democrat in the country, but Republicans like Ed Gillespie keep making it easier for him.

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