‘Canary in the coal mine’: Republicans fear Democratic wins mean more losses to come

‘Canary in the coal mine’: Republicans fear Democratic wins mean more losses to come

The Washington Post
By Robert Costa and Philip Rucker

A wave of Democratic victories ignited a ferocious debate across the Republican Party on Wednesday over whether President Trump’s un­or­tho­dox behavior and polarizing agenda are jeopardizing the GOP’s firm grip on power in Congress, governors’ mansions and state legislatures.

The recriminations sparked by Tuesday’s results — a decisive rebuke of Trump and his policies in Virginia and elsewhere — threatened the fragile GOP push to pass sweeping tax cuts by the end of the year and raised deeper questions about Republican identity and fealty to a historically unpopular president.

A year ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans are increasingly uncertain about keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill and are worried about how damaging Trump’s jagged brand of politics may become to the party.

“Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP,” said veteran party strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic. “We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The ­canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out; its head exploded.”

The unease was palpable among vulnerable lawmakers, especially in suburban districts with the kind of voters who roundly rejected Ed Gillespie in Virginia. The Republican gubernatorial nominee ran on countering gang crime and illegal immigration and protecting Confederate history — cultural issues that Trump has made a touchstone of his presidency — but lost to ­Democrat Ralph Northam, 54 percent to 45 percent.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said Tuesday’s contests were a lesson to Republicans that catering to the party’s conservative base with hard-line appeals and incendiary language turns off the moderate voters they need to win in states like his own. He said his party must choose between a political message of “blaming and scapegoating” or a more hopeful pitch centered around everyday issues such as health care and the economy.

“This is a repudiation of the politics of narrow,” Kasich said. In an apparent reference to Trump’s 2016 victory, the governor added, “The politics of anger may work for a moment in time, but it does not last, thank goodness.”

The discord comes after weeks of escalating tensions inside the GOP. Three prominent Republican senators — John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — have publicly condemned Trump’s leadership and questioned his fitness for office.

It also comes amid an exodus of House Republicans. This week alone, Reps. Frank A. LoBiondo (N.J.) and Ted Poe (Texas) announced they would not seek reelection next year, joining a list of more than two dozen colleagues who are retiring or running for a different office. Democrats see many of those vacancies as ripe territory as they look to win back the House majority. Democrats will need to capture 24 additional seats next year to reach the 218-seat threshold to control the House.

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