In the Virginia General Assembly elections held Tuesday, President Donald Trump fueled the Democratic takeover of both the House of Delegates and State Senate.
From our friends over at Wikipedia on the definition of fire:
“Fires start when a flammable or a combustible material, in combination with a sufficient quantity of an oxidizer such as oxygen gas or another oxygen-rich compound (though non-oxygen oxidizers exist), is exposed to a source of heat or ambient temperature above the flash point for the fuel/oxidizer mix, and is able to sustain a rate of rapid oxidation that produces a chain reaction. This is commonly called the fire tetrahedron.”
Basically, fire needs a flashpoint to start. Then the fire needs more fuel and oxygen to keep burning. But first, combustible material must be present.
From The Washington Post:
“But singling out Trump as the reason for Republican failures in 2019 “is too easy,” said Mark Rozell, a George Mason University professor of public policy. Rather, he said, Virginia’s GOP over the past decade has gravitated toward the right on social issues and alienated moderate voters.”
Rozell suggests that Virginia Republicans had piled up combustible fuel just waiting for a spark. That’s not an unfair observation. Was that enough to flip both chambers though?
Further analysis on this historic election will be done, but let’s not look past the “too easy” flashpoint of President Trump who routinely, almost daily, throws more fuel on a hot burning fire while at the same time fanning the Democratic flames.
Did the Virginia GOP make mistakes? Sure.
Name a governing majority that hasn’t.
But take nothing away from the Democrats in Virginia.
They are very, very good at what they do. Democrats took full advantage of the opportunity presented to them.
News outlets have put in their reporting that this is the first time since the early 90s that the Democrats will control the Executive Branch and the two legislative chambers.
Let’s go there.
In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president with 43% of the vote nationally but won only 40% of the vote here in Virginia.
A year later, Democratic nominee for governor, Mary Sue Terry got slightly under 41% to Republican George Allen’s 58%.
Quick aside – Trump got 44.4% in 2016, while Ed Gillespie got 44.8% in 2017. Very similar to Clinton and Terry in that Gillespie and Terry both lost badly but improved by less than 1 point from previous year.
The GOP was fired up in 1993 like the Democrats were in 2017. Lots of issues were dry kindling, but Clinton overreach on healthcare (HillaryCare) lit the pile.
After the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, President Clinton declared “the era of big government was over” in his 1996 State of the Union Address.
Clinton took away enough Republican fuel including signing a welfare reform bill and was re-elected that November.
During the Clinton and Governors Allen/Gilmore years of 1994-2000, the Democrats saw their House of Delegates majority go from 58 to a Republican takeover after the elections of 1999.
Redistricting boosted the GOP House advantage to 64 + 2 conservative Independents after the 2001 elections in which Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine won Governor and Lt. Governor respectively. Jerry Kilgore became Attorney General as a Republican at the same time.
That election occurred less than two months after 9/11 and ushered in strong bipartisan sentiments from the electorate.
The presidency of George Bush and the Iraq War fueled a lot of Democratic fire during the governorships of Warner and Kaine. GOP membership in the House fell from a high of 66 to just 56 during the last cycle of President Bush.
Barack Obama’s historic election as president in 2008 refueled the Republicans back up to 61 seats in the House and Bob McDonnell’s landslide 58-41 win in 2009. Redistricting bumped those numbers up even higher to 68 as the Affordable Care Act added more fuel and oxygen to the GOP fire.
During the governorship of Democrat Terry McAuliffe (2014-2018), the Democrats only got to 34 seats in the Virginia House with Obama in the White House.
Throughout this post-Cold War time period, the State Senate went to a 20-20 tie with the 1995 elections and then effective Republican control in 1997 when Republican John Hager became Lieutenant Governor. In the last cycle of the Clinton Administration, the Democrats lost outright control of the Senate 19-21 in 1999.
The first State Senate election of the Bush presidency occurred in 2003 and after redistricting. This pushed the GOP advantage in the Senate to 23-17. However, the General Assembly elections in 2007, during the last cycle of President Bush, saw the Senate flip back to blue 22-18 as House Democrats also climbed seats to 44 seats up 10 from 2001.
The first State Senate election in Virginia under President Obama saw a 20-20 tie in 2011 and then outright control at 21-19 for the GOP in the last Obama cycle in 2015.
- Donald Trump. Enter stage right.
Dramatic upset. Flashpoint for Democrats. BOOM.
Then came the Virginia elections of 2017 for the three statewide offices and the House of Delegates.
Democrats swept the top three statewide offices and gained 15, and very nearly 16, seats in the House.
The 2019 elections Tuesday occurred in the second half of Trump’s first term and fueled the fire of Democrats leading to an additional 6 seat pick up in the House and a 2 seat pick up in the Senate for outright control of both chambers.
To Rozell’s point of Republican missteps along the way -Yes, there were mistakes.
There always are. And that is fuel.
The flashpoint which lit that fuel here in Virginia was the election of Donald Trump who brought a LOT of his own fuel. Trump continues to add more of it as well as oxygen to keep the fire burning very hot for Democrats. Very, very hot.
Reports are that the Democrats are trying to learn from these lessons of history by planning out how they can govern and get re-elected regardless of the party in the White House.
As a history major and former history teacher, I always applaud those who try to learn from the past.
The question for the new Virginia majority will be how do they keep both fuel and oxygen away from the Republicans’ pilot light and while keeping Democrats fired up if Trump loses to one of their own just 362 days from today.
That’s a hard balance for a party to game out with an economy historically overdue for a recession, a yield curve inverted since August, and a political base expecting results consistent with what is being sold by their national candidates.
In politics, fires are required for success. Fires are especially hard to control when you’re in control of neither the fuel nor the oxygen.
Just ask Virginia Republicans who are hoping that the suburban voters that continue to burn white hot against Trump and also not becoming permanently blue.