Donald Trump is the clear favorite in Virginia’s March 1 Republican Presidential primary. His candidacy seriously undermines Republican prospects to carry Virginia in the fall.
In a July column, I concluded:
The longer Trump stays in the race, the longer his views are publicized and associated with the Republican brand, the more damage he will do to Republican prospects–particularly in a purple state like Virginia.
Based on the results of the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucuses, the damage inflicted by Trump’s candidacy on the Virginia Republican brand has grown substantially since July.
What South Carolina and Nevada say about Virginia
Trump won the South Carolina primary decisively, and the anti-Republican-establishment candidates (Trump, Cruz & Carson) won a combined 62% of the South Carolina vote. The Republican- establishment candidates (Rubio, Bush & Kasich) won only 38%.
The Nevada results were even more decisive. The anti-Republican-establishment candidates won 72%, leaving the Republican-establishment candidates with only 28%.
Therefore, the anti-Republican-establishment “lane” in Virginia will be plenty large enough to do lasting damage.
The right profile for a Republican to win a Virginia general election
Mainstream, conservative establishment Republican Bob McDonnell easily won the 2009 gubernatorial election. Extreme, right-wing Republican Ken Cuccinelli lost the 2013 gubernatorial election. As shown in the table below, two other mainstream Republican conservatives almost won recent statewide elections:
|Attorney General 2013||Mark Herring (D) 1,103,777||Mark Obenshain (R) 1,103,612|
|U.S. Senate 2014||Mark Warner (D) 1,073,667||Ed Gillespie (R) 1,055,940|
Virginia general election voters have a history of supporting candidates whom they perceive as sensible and pragmatic. Large numbers of voters found McDonnell, Obenshain and Gillespie to be sensible and pragmatic. Donald Trump simply does not have the personality profile of recent highly competitive Republican statewide candidates like McDonnell in 2009, Obenshain in 2013 or Gillespie in 2014. Instead, Trump looks a lot more like a recent brash, outspoken, statewide LOSER: Cuccinelli in 2013.
Here’s what Shaun Kenney, the respected former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia, recently declared he would do if Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee:
I will work actively against him to ensure his defeat in the general election should he obtain the Republican nomination. In this, I am not alone. Millions of Americans will not pull the lever for Trump. Millions more are absolutely sickened by the jackbooted tactics of a militated few.
This is an uncommonly blunt declaration for a prominent party operative to make about his own party’s likely Presidential nominee. He wouldn’t have made it if it didn’t reflect what he is hearing privately from many other Virginia Republican leaders.
It looks very likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican Presidential nominee. But, even if the Republican establishment finds a way to deny Trump the nomination, Republicans are unlikely to carry Virginia for that alternative nominee. Why? There are already too many angry, energized Virginia Trump and Cruz supporters who either would stay home or force that alternative nominee too far to the right to carry Virginia.
Either way, Republicans in Virginia are trumped.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.