The state elections on Tuesday were a resounding success for Democrats. Ralph Northam beat out Republican opponent Ed Gillespie for Virginia in a 9-point victory, and Republicans lost at least 14 seats in the House of Delegates which could potentially cause the majority to shift to Democrats. Additionally, New Jersey elected Philip Murphy to the office of governor, defeating the Republican opponent Kim Guadagno.
The campaign tactics used by Gillespie and Guadagno mimicked the astonishingly divisive rhetoric that came to the forefront in American politics last year during the Trump campaign. Consequently, the larger-than-expected Democratic turnout and the victories that came with it appear to indicate a growing and motivated opposition to the Trump administration.
While the victories will undoubtedly bring about liberal policies and prevent conservative ones, it is also important to understand why the nature of the Republican campaigns are trending towards fear-mongering and bigotry.
The simple fact of why these strategies were utilized in the elections, first by Trump and followed by Gillespie and Guadagno, is to stir up right-wing populist anger in an effort to cover up a lack of popular policies. Trump’s inevitable push to gut healthcare and push for huge tax breaks for millionaires at the expense of the working class and the deficit are not popular, even from the base that supported him in the general election.
The same can be said for Gillespie valuing the interests of big corporations over the basic needs of most Virginians. The actual policies brought about by a Gillespie term would have been wildly unpopular across the board, so to generate support he decided to appeal to the southern white identity by focusing on topics such as preserving confederate monuments and Colin Kaepernick’s protest.
This masking of conservative economic policies is of course intentional. Driven by wealthy donors, the push for tax cuts for the rich has been proven time and time again to not drive sustainable economic growth, nor increase the overall well-being of the working class. As evident by the details of the congressional GOP tax plan, the proposed tax increases are in no means intended to help the working class, but instead designed to fatten the pockets of the rich.
Even if one subscribes to this form of economic theory, the objective truth is that it is not particularly favorable to the working-class base, where the Republicans have targeted their political efforts.
To anyone who disagrees with the argument that conservative economic policies are not a popular selling point in elections, I would simply ask: why have conservative politicians time and time again focused on divisive cultural rhetoric instead of promoting their “growth-oriented” economic plans?
Furthermore, exit polls indicated that the most important issue to Virginian voters was healthcare. Approximately 37 percent of the voters stated that healthcare was the issue that most determined their vote, and 78 percent of those people voted for Northam.
This evidence points to the obvious fact that taking away healthcare from constituents would not be an effective campaign strategy. These holes in conservative policy can be covered up during campaigns, which are designed to appeal to fears and emotion, but they are glaringly obvious when it is time for policies to be passed and bills to be signed. Luckily, a substantial number of voters in Virginia were able to anticipate this and voted accordingly.
In short, the recent examples of Republican campaigns have shown one huge thing to be true. Being transparent about their economic and healthcare plans does not produce enthusiasm that leads to victories in the same way that targeting liberal protests and using explosively racist rhetoric does. Although Gillespie did not win in Virginia, his campaign tactics helped to keep him relatively close in a race that should have favored Northam substantially.
While spawning fear about immigrants, Muslims and other forms of identity politics was above the moral compass of former Republican candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain, they did not win.
Historical trends indicate that politics is a game of imitation, so one can only hope that the defeats of Gillespie and Guadagno discourage these tactics from being implemented by Republicans in 2018. However, in the likely scenario that these trends persist, it is important for voters and Democratic nominees to focus on the issues that most greatly affect them.
Jake is a junior majoring in economics and history with a certificate in environmental studies. What are your thoughts on the recent elections? Please send any and all of your questions, comments and concerns to email@example.com.