Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
One of Alabama’s most powerful Republicans said Tuesday that the state GOP should pull its nomination of Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“If they pull him then they have another candidate. I said I’d like to see another candidate,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told TPM when pressed on whether the state party should un-endorse Moore and back a write-in candidate.
That’s a step farther than Shelby had previously been willing to go. On Monday he’d told TPM it was a decision for state steering committee, which plans to meet later this week to determine Moore’s fate.
Shelby isn’t beloved by many in the Alabama Republican Party’s conservative wing. He had to ward off a primary challenge last election cycle, and some Moore supporters were furious he backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) over Moore in this year’s primary. But he’s one of the few left in the state party with major sway, and is by far the highest profile Alabama Republican to publicly say the party should cut Moore loose. His support for doing so could help nervous Republicans on the committee to stand up and fight to have him removed against the members on the committee who want to stick by Moore.
Shelby’s comments come after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) publicly floated the idea that Attorney General Jeff Sessions might come back to run for his old seat as he talked up a write-in option. Sessions may be the only Republican in the state with enough goodwill on the right to cobble together a coalition for a write-in campaign, but sources close to him told TPM on Monday that he’s been telling Alabama Republicans he’s not interested in leaving the Department of Justice to return to the Senate.
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s Democratic opponent is taking to the airwaves to hit him for his burgeoning sex scandal.
Democrat Doug Jones has a new ad out featuring self-described Republicans who say they can’t vote for Moore, alluding throughout the ad to the on-record accusations from five women that Moore pursued sexual encounters with them, including one who was just 14 at the time.
The ad has voters — four Republicans and three Democrats — alluding to the “awful” story before pledging to vote for Jones.
“You read the story and it just shakes you,” one Alabamian says in the ad.
“Don’t decency and integrity matter anymore?” another asks.
“I’m a Republican, but Roy Moore – no way,” a third says.
Moore has aggressively refused to drop out while accusing the women of lying and describing a conspiracy against him from establishment Republicans, Democrats and the media. That’s true even after a fifth woman stepped forward Monday to accuse him of sexually attacking her when she was just 16 years old.
Jones is looking to score what would be a huge upset win for a Democrat in Alabama by running against Moore’s temperament and fitness for office — an argument that has been given a huge boost by the burgeoning scandal.
Republicans still hold out hope they can force Moore from the race and back a write-in candidate, and the local Republicans in charge of whether they’ll cut Moore loose have scheduled a meeting for later this week to decide whether or not to stand by him.
Jones also released a web video featuring Republican Steve Duncan, who ran for local office a few years back and says he’s backing Jones.
“Look in the mirror, check your heart, check your soul,” Duncan says in the spot. Before you pull the lever, remember, do you want someone like Roy Moore? Who’s gonna continue the divisiveness — or how about Doug Jones — who just might bring unity to this country and to this state. I choose Doug Jones. Yep, I’m another Republican. I’m Steve Duncan, I want to be on the right side of history. That’s why I’m voting for Doug Jones.”
Here’s the TV ad’s full script:
Supporter 1: I’m a lifelong Republican, but I just can’t do it.
Supporter 2: I can’t vote for Roy Moore.
Supporter 3: He’s already been removed from office twice.
Supporter 4: This time it’s even worse.
Supporter 5: You read the story and it just shakes you.
Supporter 6: Just awful.
Supporter 7: I just don’t trust him.
Supporter 3: He’s too divisive.
Supporter 5: Don’t decency and integrity matter anymore.
Supporter 4: I’m a Republican, but Roy Moore – no way.
Supporter 1: I’m for Doug Jones.
Supporter 2: I’m another Republican for Doug Jones.
As national Republicans ramp up the pressure to force Roy Moore to drop his Alabama Senate campaign, the small group of local GOP power players who will ultimately determine Moore’s political fate are taking reluctant steps towards deciding whether to cut him loose.
The 21 members of Alabama’s Republican Party central steering committee are the only ones who can pull Roy Moore’s nomination and potentially block his path to the Senate. After days of mounting allegations that their Senate nominee had sexual contact with teenage girls while he was in his 30s, two Alabama GOP sources tell TPM they’ve finally decided to hold a meeting later this week to hash out whether they can stand by his side.
“We are still weighing the evidence, but realize some decision or statement must come from the state party soon,” said one Alabama Republican.
Most members of the committee have so far stayed silent, worried about fury from Moore backers if they reject him and damage to their own political careers no matter what they do.
But as the allegations pile up against their nominee, they’re creeping towards making a decision on whether to stand by Moore or pull the party nomination and back a possible write-in campaign, a move which further dims their hopes of holding the seat.
Under state law, it is too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot or replace him with another candidate. If his nomination is withdrawn but he still gets the most votes in the Dec. 12 election against Democratic nominee Doug Jones, it’s unclear what happens. Some interpret the law as saying the election would be null and void and the governor would need to call a new one, while others say the second-place finisher would be declared the winner, whether that’s Jones or a write-in. Lawsuits would be likely.
The committee’s decision to hold a meeting and call came Monday afternoon, shortly after a fifth woman came forward to say Moore pursued her when she was a teenager. Beverly Young Nelson said that Moore violently tried to force her to have sex with him, initially refusing to let her exit his car and leaving bruises on her neck from where he tried to pull her head to his crotch. Moore called the latest allegations “absolutely false.”
National Republicans moved swiftly against Moore on Monday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unequivocally calling on Moore to quit the race and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) saying the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he does win his election.
“The women looked believable and the stories looked believable,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters Monday, calling the accusations “very disturbing” and repeating his suggestion that Moore should drop out of the race.
Shelby and other Republicans buzzed about possible write-in candidates. But two of their most obvious options seemed to take themselves out of the running on Monday.
Two sources close to Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’s told Alabama Republicans he’s “not interested” in returning to the Senate seat he gave up to become attorney general. Session’s appointed successor, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who lost to Moore in the GOP primary, told reporters Monday that it’s “highly unlikely” that he will run.
Alabama Republicans said there’s almost no chance of Moore stepping aside, even if more accusers come forward — and even if President Trump himself calls for Moore to drop out in the coming days. Moore is famously stubborn, has long clashed with establishment Republicans in the state (including some on the steering committee) and has twice been forcibly removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to follow the rule of law.
“It doesn’t matter what the party does. It doesn’t make a difference. He’s not dropping out, look at his history. He’s been forcibly been removed from office twice. He wants to be martyred,” another senior Alabama Republican told TPM.
Despite the seriousness of the allegations against Moore, state Republicans face a no-win situation politically. They can yank a nomination Moore won fair and square in the primary in spite of heavy opposition from the party establishment, infuriating his die-hard backers who hold significant sway in the state party and face severe blowback and accusations that they’re rigging the game. Or they can stand by a candidate whose toxicity is damaging both the state and national Republican Party and causing deep embarrassment for the state of Alabama.
The party is split heading into the high-stakes meeting. Some have finally had it with Moore, worry about more allegations, and want to see him drop out of the race immediately or lose the state party nomination. Others are furious at what they see as a concerted effort by establishment Republicans, Democrats and the media to destroy Moore’s life along with his political career.
“The part I can’t understand and don’t think has even registered with too many people is what part of the word ‘accusation’ do you not understand?” Republican National Committeeman Paul Reynolds, a member of the state steering committee, told TPM. “To the people who are so up in arms, these are accusations until there is hard, fast proof.”
“It’s just politics. Donald Trump had to go through the same thing,” Perry Hooper, the Trump campaign’s chairman in Alabama, who’s not on the committee, told TPM.
Others privately disagree — some of them vehemently — but the pro-Moore voices are louder and more aggressive.
“I’ve heard they’re going to have a call this week. But let’s be honest: I don’t see them doing anything,” an Alabama Republican who dislikes Moore and has talked to a number of people on the steering committee told TPM.
“The people who are for Moore are vocal and totally off the ranch. And the other people have lives, they work and are committed to the Republican Party, and they always supported Republican candidates,” that Republican continued. “The easiest thing for human beings is to do nothing and let the people of Alabama decide.”
Many on the committee have their own political careers to worry about. Roughly a quarter of the committee’s members are running for public office next year and face competitive primaries where they need backing from Moore’s supporters. Others depend on GOP contracts for their livelihood, or on relationships built through the state party for company business.
Further complicating the situation is the current disarray of the state party, which has been wracked by multiple scandals. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) assumed office just months ago after former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign under an ethics cloud. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the state’s most powerful Republican, can’t get publicly involved because of his current position. Strange is a lame duck after losing to Moore in the primary. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the only elder statesman left in the party — and he has little sway and even less trust with the state’s hardline conservatives, who challenged him in a primary just two years ago and were furious he backed Strange over Moore.
Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan didn’t answer multiple phone calls requesting comment, while party Executive Director Harold Sachs refused to discuss the party’s approach to Moore when reached by TPM. Lathan told AL.com Monday that it was “very unlikely” Moore would lose the party’s endorsement.
But the state’s smart Republicans know something must be done — even if they don’t want to be the ones to do it.
“All those people are elected and they’ve got to look at it. He’s got to make his own decision,” Shelby told TPM when asked what he thought the steering committee should do. “But I tell you, it’s drip by drip, cut by cut. It doesn’t look good.”
An Alabama woman on Monday said Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, the fifth woman to accuse Moore of making improper sexual advances on her in recent days.
Beverly Young Nelson said a during press conference with attorney Gloria Allred that the alleged assault occurred when she was 16 years old.
“Mr. Moore attacked me when I was a child. I did nothing to deserve this sexual attack. I was frightened by his position, by his power,” Nelson said.
Nelson said Moore offered her a ride home from work, then attempted to force her to have sex with him, leaving bruises on her neck as she struggled to free herself and refusing to stop when she asked.
“I tried to open my car door to leave, but he reached over and he locked it so I could not get out. I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop. But instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch. I continued to struggle. I was determined that I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him,” Nelson said. “I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought that he was going to rape me.”
Beverly Nelson details her allegations against Roy Moore: "Mr. Moore reached over and began groping me and putting his hands on my breasts." pic.twitter.com/Utm1diconW
Moore eventually stopped, Nelson said, and warned her no one would believe her if she shared her story.
“He said, ‘you’re just a child,’ and he said, ‘I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you,'” she said.
Allred showed a page from the woman’s high school yearbook she said Moore had signed with a flirtatious note.
“She was sexually assaulted by Roy Moore,” Allred said, calling for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on the matter and subpoenaing Moore to testify.
Nelson is the fifth woman to accuse Moore of having made sexual advances on her when she was a teenager — including one who was 14 at the time.
But Moore has remained defiant.
“Gloria Allred is a sensationalist leading a witch hunt, and she is only around to create a spectacle. Allred was the attorney who claims credit for giving us Roe v. Wade which has resulted in the murder of tens of millions of unborn babies,” Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead said in a statement released before Allred’s press conference began. “We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for Moore to exit the race Monday morning, declaring he believed Moore’s accusers and talking about a possible write-in campaign.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) went a step further immediately after Nelson’s press conference, calling for a vote to expel Moore from the Senate if he wins.
“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office. If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said.
National Republicans can’t do anything to force Moore out of the race, however. There’s no way to remove him from the ballot itself. The state Republican Party can decertify its endorsement, disqualifying him as a candidate and backing a write-in candidate to run, but that’d take a vote from local party leaders to do so.
It would take 67 votes to expel Moore from the Senate if he does win the Dec. 12 election. Initial polls after the first allegations surfaced on Thursday showed Moore in a competitive race with Democrat Doug Jones in deep-red Alabama, and the latest allegations could further damage his campaign.
A number of top Alabama Republicans were quick to defend Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) following allegations that he’d sought sexual relationships with multiple teenagers — and quick to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for throwing Moore under the bus.
McConnell said Moore “must step aside” if the Washington Post’s story was true that Moore, then 32, initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in 1979. It was a line echoed by most senators.
That infuriated a number of Republicans back in Alabama, many of whom defended Moore’s character and suggested the women were likely lying.
“I think it’s just a bunch of bull,” Perry Hooper Jr., President Trump’s Alabama state chairman, told TPM. “Mitch McConnell should know better to make a statement like he made unless he gets all the answers. We’re right in the political zone right now, the election’s December 12th. This is the same campaign issue the left ran against Donald Trump on, they’re doing the same thing against Roy Moore.”
Hooper, who’d backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) over Moore in the primary, called the allegations “ludicrous” and “gutter politics” unless they could be proven.
“The same thing went on when President Trump ran for office, there was about 15 ladies who ran to the press and said the same thing,” he said.
When asked how the claims could be proven, he suggested the woman take a polygraph.
“Maybe she just needs to take a polygraph test. And the people who are pushing her, they need to take the same test too to see if they’re telling the truth,” he said.
Alabama State Rep. Ed Henry (R), Trump’s other Alabama campaign co-chairman, was even harsher.
“I believe it is very opportunistic and they are just looking for their chance to get on some liberal talk show. I’m sure they’ve probably been offered money by entities that surround the Clintons and that side of the world. We know they will pay to dirty anyone’s name that’s in their way. If you believe for a second that any of these are true then shame on these women for not coming forward in the last 30 years, it’s not like this guy hasn’t been in the limelight for decades. I call B.S. myself. I think it’s all lies and fabrication,” Henry told TPM.
When asked about McConnell’s comments, he erupted.
“Mitch McConnell, and you can quote me on this, is a dumbass, a coward, a liar himself and exactly what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. He would love for Roy Moore not to be in Washington, he’d much rather have a Democrat. Mitch McConnell is scum,” he said, putting the chances at “zero” that the state party would un-endorse Moore.
And he said he’d need photographic evidence to believe the women.
“They got some pictures? That’ll do,” he said. “You can’t sit on something like this for thirty-something years with a man as in the spotlight as Roy Moore and all of a sudden three weeks before a senatorial primary all of a sudden these three or four women are going to talk about something in 1979? I call bull. It’s as fabricated as the day is long.”
Moore is vehemently denying the charges. And while Republicans could pull the plug on his campaign by un-endorsing him and backing a write-in campaign, as long as the state Republican Party stands by him, he’ll remain the GOP candidate.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) also dismissed the allegations.
“These allegations have been made against Judge Moore but at this time that’s all they are, they’re allegations. I know Judge Moore to be a man of integrity and character,” he told TPM. “It’s very interesting to me and very odd that these charges have just now been introduced… People will say and do anything, and you and I both know they will.”
And he wasn’t thrilled with McConnell’s comment.
“It’s always interesting to me when people comment on things before all the facts are available for people to evaluate. I try not to make a rash decision or rash comments about topics that I don’t have all the facts on and I don’t have all the facts on this and I don’t know if Sen. McConnell has all the facts or not,” he said.
They’re not the only ones defending Moore. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said even if the report was true, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Moore backer: "Even if you accept the Washington Post’s report as being completely true, it’s much ado about very little. " #ALSEN#alpolitics
“There is nothing to see here,” he said. “The allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls. Even the Washington Post report says that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the girls and never attempted sexual intercourse.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said Moore “wouldn’t belong in the Senate” if the allegations were true, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has so far refused to endorse Moore. But few other Alabama Republicans look ready to break with Moore immediately over the allegations — and if the state GOP refuses to abandon him, he’s likely to stay the GOP nominee and still have a real shot at the U.S. Senate.
“The election results are sending a clear signal that middle-class issues like SALT [state and local tax deductions] are going right to the heart of the Trump voter,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told TPM.
“To me it’s about the most obvious message you can get. I just hope people listen,” he said, imploring GOP leaders to rethink the contours of the tax bill. “It’s just common sense. These aren’t [just] tough votes, they’re votes that go right against our constituents.”
GOP leaders will need support from Republicans from suburban districts like King’s to pass changes to tax laws through the House — and any members who vote in favor of it are writing Democrats’ attack ads for them.
That puts both suburban Republicans and GOP leaders in a tough spot.
Republicans argue — likely correctly — that if they don’t get tax reform done, their base will be further depressed and (more importantly) deep-pocketed donors will close their wallets, further damaging their chances at holding the House.
“If we don’t pass our tax reform bill, if we don’t get this on the president’s desk, our base is going to be less likely to come out,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a close ally of President Trump’s, told TPM. “We really need to deliver this. Nancy Pelosi summed it up when she said ‘if Republicans don’t pass this bill we’re going to flip the House.'”
But that doesn’t make it any more palatable for suburban Republicans who’d likely be voting to raise many of their constituents’ taxes — and hurting their own job security.
House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN), a key player on tax reform, told TPM not to over-read Tuesday’s results.
“This is one election night, and there are a lot of different factors that effect any election night,” she said, arguing that tax reform is a political must-pass for her conference.
“We’ve promised the American people that we’re going to reform the tax code, and I think we need to reform the tax code,” she continued. “We have got to come through with what we’ve promised people.”
King isn’t the only suburban Republican from a district with a higher cost of living and higher local taxes who is deeply skeptical of the bill — and who thinks the GOP losses should serve as a warning sign a day after college-educated voters abandoned the party in droves and huge turnout from fast-growing minority communities and millennials handed Democrats huge wins from coast to coast.
Many suburban Republicans from higher-tax states have been critical of the House GOP’s tax reform plan, which eliminates a number of provisions like the state and local tax deductions and student loan interest tax deduction that help their constituents in disproportionate numbers.
Those deductions are relied upon by middle- and upper-middle-class suburban voters in states like California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Minnesota. Studies show those voters would likely see their taxes go up in future years to pay for the big corporate tax cut Republicans are pushing through.
Republicans facing potentially tough races that have a high number of people reliant on the SALT deductions include Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN). Near the top of the list: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), whose district was carried by Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam (D) by a double-digit margin on Tuesday.
Democrats warned their GOP brethren of what will befall them if they back the plan.
“If you continue to try and eliminate the state and local deduction you are going to kill suburban legislators who are already in trouble because the suburbs don’t seem to like Donald Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday. “We say to our Republican friends on this tax bill, as Clinton Eastwood said, You want to pass this tax bill? You want to hurt the suburbs? Make our day.”
According to the Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank, Republicans hold nine of the 20 districts with the most people reliant on SALT deductions, and seven of those who’d be hardest hit by the percentage of their income. That includes a number of swing districts like Comstock’s, which is fourth on that list and where more than half of her constituents claim SALT deductions.
Plenty of other suburban districts with vulnerable members could be hard-hit as well.
Rep. Darrel Issa’s (R-CA), who won a nail-biter of an election last year and is facing another tough challenge, told TPM he wasn’t thrilled with the bill and wasn’t “currently willing to support” it. Nearly half of his constituents claim the SALT deduction, according to a study from the Government Finance Officers Association.
“If we had stuck just to things that generated economic growth and left all the other so-called reforms out we’d have a cleaner bill that’d be easier to pass,” he said. “Once we got into telling people how much we were going to cut their taxes we got into a question of how we’re going to pay for it, and we’re paying for it by raising other people’s taxes, and it happens that it is not evenly distributed by state.”
And King says that’s a good reason that a number of his suburban brethren would be forced to vote against the bill if major changes aren’t made.
“It’s one thing to take a courageous vote if it’s for a good cause. To take a vote that’s going to damage your own constituents makes no sense,” he said. “To me, it’s not tax reform — it’s just a tax increase.”
After coast-to-coast victories Tuesday and a romp in a key swing state, Democrats smell blood in the water for a 2018 election that could deal a body blow to President Donald Trump and the GOP.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) blowout victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race — the biggest election since Trump’s victory one year ago today — was the capstone of an impressive night that showed Democrats’ burning hot hatred of Trump can translate into sweeping electoral victories across the country.
“It was a rejection of Donald Trump and his bigoted, hateful and divisive rhetoric,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) told reporters Tuesday night. “All Republicans are in trouble. Look at the sweep.”
He paused when TPM asked if he thought Democrats had a shot at retaking the U.S. Senate next year. Democrats haven’t seriously considered that possibility before last night, as they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won.
“Now I do,” he said. “I think this changes the whole dynamic of electoral politics.”
Northam defeated former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie by 9 points — a far larger spread than even the most optimistic Democrats predicted, more than the five-point win Hillary Clinton managed in the state and the widest margin for any Democratic gubernatorial candidate in decades.
His sweeping win was coupled with a Democratic sweep of statewide offices and huge gains by Democrats in the statehouse no one thought possible that have put the House of Delegates teetering on the edge of their control. Democrats have picked up at least 15 seats in the chamber, double the number most of them thought likely, and turned a two-to-one GOP edge in the chamber into a virtual tie. Control of the chamber hangs in the balance, with recounts still pending in some races.
But Virginia wasn’t the only state where Democrats were crushing their foes. The party won a state Senate seat in Washington long held by the GOP, giving them an edge in the chamber and unified control of the state government. New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) beat his GOP opponent by double digits, flipping a gubernatorial seat to his party. Democrats won a mayoral race in Manchester, N.H., for the first time in more than a decade, won a statewide referendum in Maine to expand Medicaid, and picked up two deep red state senate seats in Georgia long held by Republicans. They also beat a Trump-aligned county executive in Westchester County, N.Y.
“You have sent a message across the globe to South Korea: Donald Trump, you don’t stand for our values! The America that Donald Trump comes back to in a few days is far different than the America he left. It’s an America where we are regaining our values,” an ebullient Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez declared from the stage at Northam’s victory rally.
Republicans are as alarmed as Democrats are delighted after a bruising election night in which Republicans got swept.
Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM Tuesday night that he was still getting his head around the GOP’s shellacking in the state.
“Six months is an eternity in politics, but boy, we’ve got a lot of work to do in Virginia,” he said. “It’s looking like the urban areas are just a huge problem for us and I don’t know what the answer is yet.”
Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) agreed, saying Trump and the Trump-like ads from Gillespie helped drive the results.
“Last night was a referendum. I don’t think there’s any way you can look at it any different way, to be honest with you,” he said on CNN Wednesday morning.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said he wasn’t surprised Northam won, but the lopsided numbers worried him.
“What surprised me was the margin — Gillespie got crushed in suburbs and with millennials,” he said. “Democrats are fired up and Republicans are facing some tough headwinds and how they try to hold on to House will vary from district to district.”
As Republicans fret, Democrats are gleefully looking ahead to next year.
“Based on the rejection we saw from voters tonight, one things is clear about President Trump for Republicans in 2018,” Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson told TPM after midnight early Wednesday morning. “Can’t live with him and can’t live without him.”
Alice Ollstein contributed reporting to this story.
Happy anniversary, President Trump.
It’s one year to the day since Trump pulled off his shocking election win last November. And while he may not have any major legislative achievements under his belt, that hasn’t stopped him and Republicans from dramatically changing the direction of the country in ways that will be hard to undo.
TPM surveyed dozens of administration officials, lawmakers, congressional staff, interest groups and strategists in both parties to see what moves will have the largest long-term impact. Here are the main areas where they say Trump hasn’t been just bluster — they’ll have a lasting impact.
Stacking The Courts
If Trump had achieved nothing else in his first year in office, his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court alone would reverberate through the generations, keeping the highest court leaning to the right for years and maybe decades to come. But Gorsuch’s seat isn’t the only spoil of Trump’s victory.
Senate Republicans have taken major advantage of a rule change instituted by Democrats that eliminated the 60-vote filibuster for lifetime judicial appointments, and further destroyed Senate norms by eliminating a super-majority requirement for Supreme Court picks.
The result: Gorsuch, who was confirmed after Republicans refused to allow President Obama to fill the open seat in his final year in office, and a rapid-fire confirmation of judges for other key positions.
Senate Republicans have confirmed eight appeals court judges — Obama only had one confirmed at this point in his presidency — and four district court judges to three for Obama.
Trump himself bragged about that during a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last month.
“Yes, we got a great justice, Justice Gorsuch, into the United States Supreme Court. He is going to be outstanding, hopefully for many, many years. But something that people aren’t talking about is how many judges we’ve had approved, whether it be the court of appeals, circuit judges, whether it be district judges,” Trump said, later adding “that has consequences 40 years out.”
“The single-most significant thing this President has done to change America is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But it’s not just the Supreme Court. There are a lot of vacancies at both the circuit court and district court level,” McConnell said.
Or as one Senate Republican source put it: “GOP is transforming the courts!”
“There were four circuit court judges confirmed last week which is as many as were confirmed in the first year under the Obama administration,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told TPM. “I’m concerned we’re getting more and more extreme judicial nominees … over time it degrades the respect with which our federal judiciary is held. … I did not expect to have so many nominees brought forward so quickly with whom I had difference about if they possessed a judicial temperament.”
“Gorsuch and judges are the number one thing. Even the most ardent Hillary Clinton critics on either side would say that the judiciary would look very different with her as president,” former Bernie Sanders adviser and Iowa congressional candidate Pete D’Alessandro told TPM.
Undoing Obama’s Environmental Legacy
Both Democrats and Republicans say perhaps the biggest shift in the country’s direction has been on environmental issues. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement means America will soon be the only country in the world not onboard with the push to curb global warming.
Domestically, the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt has made a concerted push to undo most of the Obama administration’s biggest regulatory achievements.
“The long-term damage from the Trump Administration’s relentless attacks on public health and environmental protection will be felt in our communities for years to come,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told TPM. “Trump has made an embarrassing and dangerous mark on history already by targeting environmental progress ranging from global to local in scale.”
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement to TPM that under Trump, his department was “providing regulatory certainty that did not exist under the previous administration.”
Grover Norquist of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform was more blunt.
“We will always have Paris moved to we will never, ever have Paris,” he told TPM.
Republicans may have failed to repeal Obamacare, but President Trump has done as much as he can to break it.
The Trump administration has cut in half the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s individual market and spent just 10 percent as much as in previous years to encourage people to sign up. Trump also ended cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers that help keep down insurance rates bought on the exchanges, a move seemingly designed to cause premiums to jump.
“The White House clearly doesn’t want this to succeed. I can’t imagine — somebody who takes the oath of office and then undercuts a public health, a federal law that has served millions of people and just doesn’t seem to care,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM Tuesday. “I just can’t believe that there isn’t more of an outcry.”
The rate of uninsured Americans climbed this year for the first time in years, which Democrat say is a result of Trump undercutting the program.
Cracking Down On Immigrants
“The wall” ain’t getting built — but that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from radically departing from how previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have handled both legal and undocumented immigrants.
Trump’s biggest move was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which had allowed 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children to legally work and attend school in the United States. Congress has so far failed to re-create the program, and hundreds of thousands of people are facing the risk of losing their jobs and scholarships, facing possible deportation and having to go into hiding if Congress doesn’t act by March.
On top of that, the Department of Justice has moved to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” by pulling federal law enforcement grants from them — including regular terror targets like New York City. That move is facing a legal battle.
The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency has also ramped up detentions and arrests in a huge way — a 43 percent increase over last year — in a move that’s instilled terror in immigrant communities.
And earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security moved to end the temporary protected status of 2,500 Nicaraguan immigrants, possibly the first move in a effort to force as many as 300,000 immigrants, many of them who came here as refugees decades ago, to leave the country.
“One of the most lasting, and hurtful, impacts Trump has had in the last year is mainlining a white supremacist immigration policy through the veins of the Republican Party and the White House. From repealing DACA, to ending TPS, to arresting pregnant women and kids with epilepsy, everything he has done is cruel and against everything that America is supposed to stand for,” Eddie Vale, a Democratic strategist with ties to labor and immigrant groups, told TPM.
Rolling back consumer protection rules and other regulations
Trump and congressional Republicans haven’t had many big-ticket achievements, but they undid a slew of regulations that had been drawn up under President Obama.
His push to massively defund whole parts of the federal government, including massive cuts to the EPA, State Department, Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service have also drawn ire from some members in both parties, though the “public castration” of the State Department and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) words, has alarmed foreign policy experts the most.
FAIRFAX, VA. — Democrat Ralph Northam has won the Virginia governor’s race, scoring the first big electoral victory of the Donald Trump era by defeating a candidate who ran hard on Trump-like culture war issues.
Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, led former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie by 54 percent to 45 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m. ET.
“Virginia has spoken — to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, the politics that have torn this country apart. In Virginia it’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences, and I’m here to let you know that the doctor is in,” Northam declared to cheers.
Northam’s win was by a wider margin than Hillary Clinton’s five-point victory in the commonwealth last year, and larger than either of President Obama’s wins in Virginia, a sign both of Virginia’s continuing demographic trend towards Democrats and Trump’s toxic standing in fast-growing suburbs.
The big margin caught even Northam’s allies by surprise — many had expected a narrow win of three to four points and were still trickling into his election night party at George Mason University when the race was called. Many rushed into the room whooping when NBC announced Northam had won.
Northam’s long coattails appeared to be sweeping Democrats in across the state. Democrats swept the statewide races of lieutenant governor and attorney general, and make surprisingly strong pickups in the house of delegates, nearly retaking the chamber with some races still outstanding late Tuesday night. The prospect of winning that many seats was unthinkable heading into election night for even the most optimistic Democrats.
“Virginia showed the world something tonight,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said.
“Pitting people against people is not the Virginia way, it’s not the American way,” he continued.
“What it says is people don’t respond to the kind of lowest common denominator approach that too often comes out of this White House and came out of a lot of the [Virginia GOP] candidates this year,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told reporters.
Republicans admitted they got crushed.
“They won. We lost,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM.
Whitbeck didn’t want to talk national implications, but admitted his party was in a deep hole after the results.
“Six months is an eternity in politics, but boy, we’ve got a lot of work to do in Virginia,” he said. “It’s looking like the urban areas are just a huge problem for us and I don’t know what the answer is yet.”
Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) former chief of staff, was more blunt:
Watch the margins in VA. As they grow, it would be suicidal for GOP not to go to school on what's happening here.
“It’s pretty unprecedented, what’s happening here,” House of Delegates Democratic Leader David Toscano (D) told reporters shortly after the race was called for Northam.
A minute later, his eyebrows shot up in surprise as looked at a phone alert. Gleefully, he told aides that Kelly Fowler (D) had won a long-shot race — which one staffer repeated in grinning disbelief.
The new state delegates include the first transgender candidate ever to win a statehouse race, Danica Roem, who defeated hardline social conservative Bob Marshall.
“I’m hoping it puts an end to the politics of bigotry,” Virginia Delegate Charniele Herring (D) told TPM about Marshall’s defeat.
Another somewhat surprising winner: Former reporter Chris Hurst (D), whose girlfriend was gunned down on live TV in the state a few years back.
The results are the most concrete sign so far of a building Democratic resurgence in the Trump era. Northam’s margin and coattails — as well as other big Democratic wins Tuesday in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, Georgia and New York — show that Democratic voters are more energized and turning out in stronger numbers across the country right now. That’s a good sign heading into crucial 2018 midterms — and will help Democrats, many of whom spent the last week watching the campaign with increasing trepidation, begin to put their 2016 election PTSD behind them.
“This is pretty nice, I won’t lie,” Robby Mook, the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), told TPM.
Gillespie, who once pushed the GOP hard to embrace a big-tent philosophy, went hard the other direction in this election — running dark Trump-like ads accusing Northam of being soft on gangs and tying him to a child pornographer in a closing ad. Trump never campaigned for Gillespie in the state but tweeted repeatedly to tout his campaign and recorded a last-minute robocall for Gillespie. The GOP candidate tried to walk a tightrope between Trump-like ads and a moderate-sounding message on the economy and inclusiveness in Northern Virginia.
Trump was quick to distance himself from the results.
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!
Democrats are going to have to compete in much tougher territory than a Democratic-trending state Hillary Clinton won by more than 5 points last fall. But this is a big early sign that the wind is at their backs heading into the 2018 midterms.
Democrats face their biggest electoral test of 2017 on Tuesday in Virginia — a must-win if they hope to show they can bounce back in the Trump era.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appears to be clinging to a narrow lead against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in the race for governor, a key test of whether the wind is really at Democrats’ backs heading into the 2018 midterms and how well they can handle Donald Trump-style GOP race-baiting.
If Northam wins, Democrats can claim their first big election victory since President Trump’s win almost a year ago after coming up short in a number of uphill battle special elections. But if Gillespie wins after running a deeply divisive campaign focused on racially charged topics like sanctuary cities and Confederate monuments in a state Hillary Clinton won last year, Democrats are likely to have a collective meltdown — one that’s already been building after a rough final week on the campaign trail for Northam and progressive-establishment infighting over the Democratic National Committee’s role in the 2016 primaries.
“Obviously a win is important here. I’m not going to even contemplate the other options at this point in time,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM Monday afternoon.
Most public and private polls from both Democrats and Republicans indicate a close race, with Northam holding a slight lead.
A Northam win would help quell the nerves that have been building with some Democratic operatives over the past two weeks as they’ve watched this race tighten up due to some missteps from the Democrat and his allies.
Progressives have been hammering Northam for his centrist tendencies, while creating some hurdles for him in the last week that he’s failed to clear smoothly.
Those screw-ups have included Northam allowing a union to print a mailer that left off Democrats’ African American candidate for lieutenant governor (he opposed a gas pipeline the union likes), Northam flipping to say he’d sign a bill banning sanctuary cities after months of beating back Gillespie’s attacks on the topic as ridiculous because Virginia doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, and a number of unhelpful controversies stirred up by liberal outside groups.
Democrats admit it wasn’t a pretty final week on the campaign trail — but are feeling confident that Northam will eke out a win.
“Last week’s Beltway tempest doesn’t change the fact that Democrats are more engaged and excited than Republicans this election cycle, and it hasn’t distracted voters from the fact that Ed Gillespie has deployed the most racist and divisive campaign tactics in modern Virginia political history,” Carolyn Fiddler, a Democratic strategist with deep ties in Virginia who works for the liberal Daily Kos, told TPM.
The optics aren’t all that matters. Besides the obvious important policy role a governor plays in a large swing state, whoever wins will be the governor the next time Virginia draws its electoral maps. A Northam victory would force a compromise map or one drawn by the courts, likely undoing Republicans’ seven-to-four edge in the Congressional delegation. If Gillespie wins, Republicans would likely be able to gerrymander statehouse maps to lock in unified control for another decade, as well as protect their current members.
And while Gillespie has decided to keep President Trump at arm’s length (even as he’s adopted many of the president’s tactics), the Trump hasn’t stayed quiet about the race.
Republicans are feeling better by the day that Gillespie might be able to grind out a win — a result that would be stunning given Trump’s terrible numbers in the state, Virginia’s Democratic trend and Clinton’s five-point win there last year.
“We feel like the momentum’s with us, and love the complete and utter disaster that is Democrat morale right now, the circular firing squad is out for Ralph Northam,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck told TPM. “Democrats have tried to nationalize this and the danger to them is what happens if we win it. … It’ll be devastating to them.”
But Northam’s team says they’re feeling good about where things stand — and that there are lessons to be learned for other Democrats about how to run in the age of Trump if they win.
“You have to run as an authentic candidate authentic to who you are, you have to be willing to counter Republican fear-mongering, and you have to build a turnout organization that is going to aggressively outperform what you’ve seen in the past,” Northam spokesman David Turner told TPM.