US President Donald Trump on Wednesday marked one year since his shock election win, but Democrats spoiled the anniversary by dealing him a resounding defeat in several high-profile state and mayoral elections.
Ousted from the White House and enduring opposition status in Congress since Hillary Clinton’s humiliating loss on November 8, 2016, Democrats bounced back Tuesday night with their biggest election victories of the Trump era.
They won governors races in New Jersey and Virginia, with the latter the scene of a command performance by progressives up and down the ballot, which analysts said could signal trouble for Trump’s Republicans in next year’s congressional mid-terms.
Democrats won mayoral races in New York and Boston, as expected, but also in cities like Manchester, New Hampshire; Fayetteville and Charlotte in the battleground state of North Carolina; and St Petersburg in Florida.
An Indian-American became the first Sikh mayor of a New Jersey city, Hoboken, while Virginians elected their state’s first openly transgender House of Delegates member.
In northwestern Washington state, Democrats seized control of the legislature, putting the entire state government in party hands.
“Last night was a great reminder of what’s possible when we come together and fight for what we believe in,” Clinton said in a tweet.
Some of the results were expected, as in Virginia, which as a neighbor to the capital Washington has trended blue in recent years.
But the 8.5 percentage point victory margin for governor-elect Ralph Northam over his Trump-endorsed rival, Ed Gillespie, stunned analysts who did not expect so thorough a repudiation of Trump’s combative politics.
“We’re taking our country back from Donald Trump one election at a time,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said on a conference call.
“Voters are rewarding Democrats for their compassion and punishing Republicans for dividing our country.”
The results could emerge as a test of the unpopular president’s influence ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections and the next presidential contest, in 2020
They were also the victories the party had been craving, having failed to win any of the five high-profile special elections for House of Representatives seats earlier this year.
– ‘Backlash to Trump’ –
One salve for Republicans Tuesday was their candidate’s victory in a congressional race in Utah, to replace the retired Jason Chaffetz.
Elsewhere, Democrats successfully mobilized ground forces for referendum votes against Trump, boosting turnout in traditionally blue regions like populous northern Virginia, where Democratic candidates got 80 percent of the vote.
It was “a backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Aware of Trump’s toxicity — his approval ratings are at historic lows — Gillespie did not personally embrace or campaign with Trump. But he did mimic Trump tactics, releasing advertisements addressing culture-war issues like illegal immigration, gang violence, national anthem protests and the fate of Confederate Civil War monuments.
Trump swiftly sought to distance himself from the failed Gillespie, tweeting that he “worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
Corey Stewart, a rightwing Trump acolyte who narrowly lost the Republican primary to Gillespie, said the establishment Republican committed the mortal sin of failing to motivate Trump’s core supporters.
“I think he made a mistake by not inviting the president to campaign for him,” Stewart reportedly said.
A Gillespie win would have served to validate Trump’s aggressive style, and form a blueprint for how mainstream Republicans can fight for Trump issues without embracing the controversial man himself.
They might be forced to rewrite their playbooks.
While Americans voted across several states, Trump was in South Korea as part of his Asia tour.
“The United States is going through something of a miracle,” Trump said in a speech to the South Korean National Assembly, citing the record-setting US stock market, declining unemployment, and the battle against Islamic State extremists.
But congressional Republicans have not succeeded in pushing through some key planks of Trump’s agenda.
Former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, a guardian of the Trump revolution who now controls the rightwing news organization Breitbart, is in open revolt against the Republican Party’s establishment wing.
He has vowed to help fund Trumpist candidates challenge Republicans in 2018 and work to jettison those who act as a drag on the president.
But some Republican lawmakers were interpreting Tuesday’s thrashing as a warning.
“Last night was a referendum” on Trump, Republican congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia told CNN. “I don’t think there was any way you could look at it a different way, to be honest.”