My dear friend of 28 years now, Rob Astorino, the current Republican County Executive of Westchester County, a highly expensive and mostly bucolic enclave in the hub of the Hudson Valley, NY, was seeking his third term this past Tuesday and was slaughtered by Democrat State Senator George Latimer. Rob was a popular public servant, whose career was on an incline from the time he told me in a Manhattan restaurant sometime in the early years of the prior decade that he wished to head into politics to “make a difference in my neighborhood” — something I tried to talk him out of, by the way. But he went in just the same, very successfully, until this year, the year of Donald Trump, or as the man whom my friend lost to in the 2014 New York gubernatorial race, Andrew Cuomo told the NY Post the next day, “This is bigger than just the county executive’s race, Rob Astorino is a fully financed subsidiary of Donald Trump.”
Of course none of the facts presented in that sentence are true. The president, now toxic to his party at an historically low 34 percent approval rating, had nothing to do with Rob Astorino. Without divulging things that are between me and my friends — many of Rob’s staff were instrumental in making me understand Trump within the party structure when the game show host was seeking the Republican nomination — I can tell you there wasn’t anything close to enthusiastic support for or from El Douche. But many of these same people made it clear to me that if Hillary Clinton had been president, their man would be heading back to a job he loved.
Now to be fair these are the deep cuts of losing an election, and boy was it gloomy in that room election night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains, where I had seen Rob take home two victories in 2009 and 2013, but lose by a narrower margin than anyone could conceive in the 2014 governor race. Even that night there was a sense that Rob was headed somewhere. But Tuesday he was headed home.
There is no denying the Republican Party was trounced on every level all across this nation on Election Day 2017, one year removed from the titular start of the wildly goofy presidency of Donald Trump, but I think while the political-climate message in clear, I’m not sure we can determine unequivocally that what transpired Tuesday is any indication that the GOP was not looking at the normal backlash of a first-year presidency.
Although comparing the clown show going on right now on Pennsylvania Avenue to any previous president is silly, every chief executive in my lifetime had to endure a first-year and in some cases a first-half-of-the-first-term hit in the polls and in statewide elections. And it can rightfully be pointed out that despite the unexpectedly rousing victory enjoyed by Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who was polling at a dead heat that morning and won by ten points, the Commonwealth of Virginia can now be considered a “blue state” — Barrack Obama won it twice, and even Hillary Clinton claimed it last year. In fact, three of the last four governors have been Democrats. Of course when you look at the victories of the first elected Latinas to the state house, the first LGBT candidate, who beat a man who called himself the state’s “chief homophobe” while failing to get a crazy anti-LBGT bathroom bill afloat, and a guy who lost his wife in a shooting beating an NRA lackey, there is more than Trump-hate going on here.
For instance, health care was cited, by a lot, as the most important issue among Virginia voters, many of which live just outside Washington DC. In fact, since Trump has been president and congress has thrice failed to nix it, the Affordable Care Act is on an incredible upswing in sign-ups and its approval rating has gone from well under 50 percent to nearly 65. This is an amazing turnaround and gives the Democratic Party, which seems to stand for nothing beyond “Trump sucks” — a winner right now, I grant you, but not a platform — something to run on in 2018.
Here in New Jersey, it was simply a slam-dunk. Exiting Governor Chris Christie’s approval rating is the lowest of any governor in the history of the United States — or at least since they began polling these things. Christie was at 15 percent on Election Day, which is just a tick above people who burn dogs for the Fourth of July and the guy who massacred those people in Vegas. His beleaguered Lt. Governor was predictably shellacked and now a pro-pot, anti-bear-hunt Wall Street Irishman progressive takes charge. That sounds about right. This is some crazy state and we love it, no matter what dink is in Washington DC mucking up the works.
The Republicans do have a Trump Problem, which we will now call it — both politically and in the important public relations realm. The president’s cult of personality — the old, angry, rich white guy who thinks everything sucks except him thing appears to have a shelf life, and seeing how nearly every day someone from his campaign is either revealed to have ties to Russia or is indicted for a crime, circumstances don’t look to get any sunnier. But the Democrats have a bigger problem beyond no plan or direction; they are powerless.
Republicans still have the lion’s share of governorships and state legislatures throughout the republic, many of which have gerrymandered things to kind of queer the results. And the party does run things in DC, where the action would be if they can pass any kind of legislation in the upcoming year, because they have accomplished nada thus far in 2017. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s results do not swing the national balance, if anything it should embolden congress to try and do something if Republicans think a reckoning is coming in 2018.
I am truly saddened for my friend, Rob Astorino. He deserved a better fate. But things have gone sideways right now and inner fighting inside both major political parties means that although today it looks a lot like a spectacular repudiation of something the incorrigible Steve Bannon has taken to calling “Trumpism,” it is no clear indication that it means a hill of beans going forward, now or by the mid-terms elections.
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey,” “Fear No Art,” “Trailing Jesus,” “Midnight For Cinderella” and “Y. “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”
And coming in June, 2018; “Accidently Like a Martyr, The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon”