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Opinion Trump just pumped his ugly sleaze into the Virginia gubernatorial race

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)


The Virginia gubernatorial race is shaping up as an early test of two pressing political questions: Will Trump’s unique awfulness energize Democrats enough to break their midterm voter dropoff curse? And what sort of continuing political effect or potency will “Trumpism” have, now that Donald Trump is actually in the White House?

Virginia is a particularly intriguing staging ground for this test. That’s because the state’s demographic evolution — it is becoming more diverse, educated and suburban — is both pushing it slowly into the Democratic column and (you’d think) rendering it less and less fertile soil for Trumpist arguments.

Trump himself has now pumped a gusher of Trumpist sleaze into the Virginia contest:

This attack is absurd. Ed Gillespie, the GOP candidate, has been running ads that make the similar claim that Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate, “voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.” As lieutenant governor, Northam did cast a tiebreaking vote against a bill that would have prevented any locality from restricting the “enforcement of federal immigration laws.” But as noted in debunking the attack, the vote was procedurally meaningless — the result of a tactical trick by Virginia Republicans that never would have had any impact other than creating fodder for an attack ad. Regardless, Virginia doesn’t have any sanctuary cities in this sense, a fact Gillespie himself has admitted.

Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam are running in this year's closely watched race for Virginia governor. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

What’s more, this line questionably conflates undocumented immigrants with violent criminals, something that Trump himself underscored more emphatically by claiming that Northam is “fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs.” So Trump’s version is even sleazier and more dishonest than Gillespie’s rendition is.

It appears that Gillespie probably wanted Trump to tweet this to juice up the GOP base. As James Hohmann explained in a good piece, Gillespie is increasingly leaning on culturally charged “Trumpist” issues, because he appears to have a “base problem.” Gillespie has been relentlessly attacking Northam as soft on illegal immigration and has said in the wake of Charlottesville white supremacist violence that Confederate statues should remain in place (echoing Trump), though with added historical context. Experts on Virginia politics have argued that all this is directed at the Trump wing of the GOP base in Virginia.

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But, by tweeting on the race, Trump also creates risks for Gillespie. Trump’s approval rating in Virginia among those likely to vote in November is at an abysmal 33-59, and 60 percent say their opinion of him has gotten more negative. Indeed, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch points out, there is still no word on whether Gillespie will even campaign with Trump, suggesting that whatever Trump’s power in revving up the base, he is a net liability for Gillespie in this changing state. Yet the overlap between Gillespie’s and Trump’s attacks — and the fact that Trump was called in to tweet on Gillespie’s behalf — confirms that the GOP is very much Trump’s party now. Trumpism in the raw — especially fresh from Trump’s Twitter feed — is what it takes to motivate the base these days.

As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes puts it, if Gillespie wins, then …

But there’s an important nuance here. Though Northam leads in the polling averages, the Daily Beast reports that some Democrats are worried that Gillespie could pull off a surprise win, because Democratic voters are not motivated enough by the race (some have argued that Northam is to blame for this problem). If so, the moral might end up being that Trumpism continues to energize the GOP base bigly, yet Trump’s presidency is in and of itself not motivating Democratic voters enough to overcome their insufficient attention to state-level contests and their tendency to turn out at lower levels in off-year and midterm elections.

* THE U.S. LOST JOBS LAST MONTH: The monthly jobs numbers are in: We lost 33,000 jobs in September. Remember when former White House flack Sean Spicer claimed that good jobs numbers under President Barack Obama were “phony,” but under Trump they are “very real”? Something tells us they’ll again go back to being fake.

* ARE REPUBLICANS WORRIED ABOUT THEIR SENATE MAJORITY? The New York Times reports that Republicans are increasingly worried about the chaos gripping their party amid threats of primary challengers to Senate incumbents:

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are making no attempt to mask their fear, predicting that failure to pass a tax overhaul in the coming months will lead to a wipeout in next year’s midterm elections. For the first time, some senators are contemplating whether their advantages on the electoral map next year could crumble amid a wave of primary challenges and other departures, putting their two-seat majority in jeopardy next year.

I’m skeptical that Democrats can win the Senate. But still: How is a huge tax cut for the rich the answer to the “populist” ferment that is supposed to be driving these primary challenges?

* MUELLER’S TEAM MET WITH CHRISTOPHER STEELE: CNN scoops that special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigators met with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the “Steele dossier” that included revelations about Russia-Trump campaign links:

CNN has learned that the FBI and the US intelligence community last year took the Steele dossier more seriously than the agencies have publicly acknowledged. …CNN also reported earlier this year that US investigators have corroborated some aspects of the dossier, specifically that some of the communications among foreign nationals mentioned in the memos did actually take place.

As CNN delicately puts it, this “contrasts” with efforts by Trump and his allies to “discredit Steele and the memos he produced.”

* MORE UGLINESS EMERGES ON ROY MOORE: Talking Points Memo reports that the chief backer of Alabama GOP Senate candidate and religious-right extremist Roy Moore is a “hardline confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group”:

Michael Anthony Peroutka … has given Moore, his foundation and his campaigns well over a half-million dollars over the past decade-plus. He’s also expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison. Chief among them: He’s argued that the more Christian South needs to secede and form a new Biblical nation.

Remember, Moore is supposed to be the Trumpist candidate.

* REPUBLICANS FRET ABOUT MOORE JOINING SENATE: Politico reports that Moore has been making the rounds among D.C. Republicans, and they aren’t too thrilled about him becoming a senator:

The lawmakers who have met with him say that Moore is unlikely to be tamed. Instead he’s angling to to join the small clutch of lawmakers willing to take lonely stands on the Senate floor against [Mitch] McConnell, and invite torrents of blame from the establishment.

Which will make it even more likely that Republicans go into 2018 without any major accomplishments.

* A ‘TRUMPFIED’ FED? Paul Krugman runs through the problems with the names being floated for next Fed chair, and explains why Trumpian and general Republican economic hocus pocus gives reason for great concern:

If congressional Republicans play a large role in selecting the next Fed chair, they’ll insist that it be someone who has been wrong about everything for the past decade. … it’s possible, even probable, that the Federal Reserve, like other government agencies, is about to get Trumpified, that one of American policy’s last remaining havens of competence and expertise will soon share in the general degradation. And won’t that be fun when the next crisis hits?

We are seeing not just widespread “degradation,” but a deep rot of bad faith that has infested this administration from top to bottom from the very outset.

* RED-STATE DEMOCRATS RELUCTANT TO BAN ‘BUMP STOCKS’: The Post reports that some Democratic senators up for reelection in conservative states are not willing to say that they will back the new push to ban “bump stocks,” which effectively allow semiautomatics to simulate automatic-weapon fire. As The Post reports, the fact that 10 Democratic senators “face reelection bids in mostly rural states that Trump easily won” could “complicate the debate.”

This is an incredibly modest reform. It would almost certainly have truly overwhelming support. Democrats even in red states should not be worried about the politics of this.

* REPORT: TRUMP MIGHT REPLACE TILLERSON: Axios reports that Trump and his advisers are considering replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo. This is funny — or perhaps sad:

Insiders say Trump’s relationship with Tillerson is broken beyond repair. We’re told Trump was furious that Tillerson didn’t try to blunt the story about him calling the president a “moron,” by just going out and denying it … After what Trump considered a strong trip to Vegas, he seethed when he got back and saw Tillerson’s gaffe dominating cable-news coverage. Everywhere he flipped, there was Tillerson’s face instead of his.

Good to see that Trump is focused, as always, on what is best for the country.