For Trump himself, it gets worse. The president showed up shortly before the Kentucky race to mobilize voters, only to see incumbent Matt Bevin (R) lose. Trump showed up in Louisiana twice for Republican candidate Eddie Rispone, an ally. It didn’t work.
In each case Republicans have readily available asterisks to damp Democrats’ celebrations. Bevin, they argue, was unusually unpopular. Rispone, for his part, was battling an incumbent, always an uphill climb.
Both of those things are true. But it doesn’t make things much better for Trump.
The point of a last-minute presidential rally, after all, is turnout. Get those Republican voters to the polls. On Saturday, there were surges in turnout — but most heavily in strongly Democratic parishes. Turnout increased in parishes that voted for the winner, Democrat John Bel Edwards, by 97,000 votes since the October primary. In parishes that voted for Rispone, turnout was up only 68,000 votes.
Most of that additional turnout in Edwards parishes was in three, in particular: East Baton Rouge, Orleans and Jefferson. In those three parishes alone, turnout increased by nearly as much as it increased in Rispone parishes.
The two counties where Trump rallied — Ouachita and Bossier — did see increases in turnout over October. In fact, among counties won by Rispone, they had the largest increases in turnout.
In those two counties, turnout increased by 17,000 votes. But since October, Edwards’s percentage of the vote increased in each place. In those two parishes, he gained 11,000 votes relative to the primary. Part of this was a function of the larger field in October. It doesn’t seem that all of it was: The increase in Edwards’s support in Ouachita Parish was much larger than the increase in East Baton Rouge, for example.
As he did in Kentucky, Trump implored the audiences at his rallies to come out and vote lest he be blamed for a Republican loss. While he doesn’t necessarily deserve blame for a loss, he certainly can’t take credit for a win. He tried to, in a way, after the loss in Kentucky, claiming falsely that Bevin had closed a double-digit gap in the polls. In reality, the race in Kentucky (like that in Louisiana) was close. Each was the sort of race in which a last-minute boost in turnout could have made a difference. In each case, Trump’s effort at boosting turnout doesn’t seem to have been effective. (As of writing, he hasn’t tried to rationalize the Louisiana result.)
To be fair, Trump has never been terribly effective at delivering general-election victories. In 2018, his endorsed candidates went about 50-50, though he’d been effective at winning primaries for Republicans.
But right now Trump needs Republicans to feel more confident in his ability to win elections than he did then. When Bevin lost, we noted the difficulty of the timing for Trump. With impeachment looming in the House, he needs Republicans to feel as though they can’t buck him without paying a political result. Expending a lot of political capital on winning gubernatorial races in red states only to see the Republicans lose doesn’t send that message. Quite the opposite.
In 2017, Republicans laughed at Democrats’ embrace of the moral victory of coming close. In 2019, in losing red states even after Trump got involved, Republicans don’t even have that.