The Virginia gubernatorial race should be a wakeup call for progressive-minded people who think that Donald Trump’s clumsy and chaotic presidency will, in itself, convince voters to usher in a drastically different sort of regime.
In one corner, we have Ralph Northam, a true understated and moderate Democrat. On the other, Ed Gillespie: a Republican who speaks to many of the same issues and uses many of the same scare tactics that Donald Trump did in his campaign.
As of now, according to a recent poll by the nationally esteemed Hampton University, Gillespie has a considerable lead in a historically moderate state which many thought might be turning blue, particularly after Clinton’s victory in the state in the 2016 elections.
Even in polls which do not show Gillespie winning, the race is very close. This is significant for a candidate who is promising to get tough on immigration and taking a hard line on the issue of the removal of Confederate statues (he wants to keep them up).
Gillespie was vocally supported by Donald Trump, tweeting that he will be “a great governor of Virginia,” and that Northam will be weak on issues like crime. Gillespie is not shying away from Trump’s support, and is leaning hard into issues like crime and security, rather than the traditional Republican go-to policies, like curtailing business regulations and cutting taxes.
One of Gillespie’s recent campaign ads aims to make the public aware of the legitimate menace that is MS-13, an international criminal gang with roots in Los Angeles. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, until the end of the ad, in which Northam is criticized for voting to keep sanctuary cities safe in Virginia.
This is important. Relating the rise of a violent criminal gang like MS-13 with the existence of sanctuary cities which house immigrants, Gillespie and his campaign are seeking to make people fearful of immigrants in the United States. Even if one does not consider the fact that there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia, something Gillespie has actually admitted during debates, it reveals a grim set of circumstances.
It seems like Gillespie is running a campaign on the theme of protecting Virginia’s culture, both from immigrants and by keeping Confederate statues up. This kind of “cultural warrior” variety of politicking is what helped get Trump elected, and Ed Gillespie is hoping to tap into that same energy.
That energy is one of panic, fear and insecurity among many American citizens. It exists whether Donald Trump’s presidency is successful or not, and for the same reasons. Gillespie, and many more like him, know this, and his constituents are clearly responding to his tactics and rhetoric.
All the more telling is that Gillespie was widely considered to be a very moderate Republican before this election. He was known for staying on issues regarding taxes and the regulation of businesses, without venturing into controversial territory if he could help it. He towed the middle line as often as he could.
If anything, this change of heart, or strategy, is a clear indication that the thirst for real and dramatic change many Trump voters thirsted for when they went to the polls in the 2016 is still there. Despite what many Democrats might be thinking, the fact that Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t been the smoothest is not enough to change their minds.
Donald Trump’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve been since his inauguration – a measly 38 percent – according to a recent Fox poll, and yet a Republican espousing many Trump-like views may very well win an election in a state that carried Clinton in the 2016 race.
People are still voting for people like Trump. Even if Northam wins, the race will be close. Trump’s execution of the office of the presidency is not enough to deter many disheartened voters, so it is, perhaps unfortunately, up to the Democrats to establish an opposition that will draw those voters in.
It is not sufficient to assume Donald Trump will drive his voters away, and to think so would be of the utmost complacency. If we are to hope for a significant change in this country’s leadership, the opposition must be on the offensive.