Republicans Face The Reality That Trump Is A Political Albatross They Can’t Get Away From

Republicans have a Donald Trump problem, and they can't run away from it.

Trump And GOP Elephant

Not surprisingly, Tuesday’s massive Republican loss in Virginia, which was clearly a rebuke directed at President Trump, the Trump agenda, and Republicans who support him, have left Republicans across the country shaken and wondering what’s to come if the current political trends continue:

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.”

But other party leaders warned against drawing overly broad conclusions about Trump and his political strength from defeats in a handful of states — including two, Virginia and New Jersey, that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election.

“Democrats say this is a repudiation and this is an anti-Trump vote, but to me the case doesn’t stick,” said Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “Donald Trump is extremely popular in a lot of places. His promise to ‘drain the swamp’ resonated and still does.”

Said Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.): “When you see one night of elections, you see one night of elections. There is always natural wind at your back if you’re not in the White House, and wind in your face if you are.”

Still, even among Trump’s allies, there were complaints about the White House being dis­engaged and unready to deal with the party’s mounting challenges.

“The White House isn’t paying attention to the suburbs, and there has never really been a political operation there,” said Edward J. Rollins, the strategist for the Great America Alliance super PAC, a pro-Trump group. “They have to develop a strategy where it’s not just Trump alone winning, where the whole party is able to win.”

Andy Surabian, an adviser to the group and an associate of former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, said blame cast upon Trump and Bannon for lurching the GOP to the right was misplaced.

“Establishment Republicans are blaming Trump and talking about Armageddon, but what is their alternative?” Surabian asked.

White House officials defended Trump’s efforts to help fellow Republicans, noting that he has held numerous fundraisers and other events to help the party. And they argued that the best way for incumbents to navigate the political turbulence would be enacting tax cuts and other Trump policies.

One of the key questions facing candidates in future elections, of course, will be the question of how Republicans should handle this President and most particularly the fact that his job approval remains at historic lows and are unlikely to improve anytime between now and the 2018 midterms. For Republicans in deeply red states and districts, of course, this isn’t really an issue and the rules for them if they want to survive politically are fairly simple. If they want to avoid being targeted in a primary by candidates backed by Steven Bannon, the Tea Party, or other groups that have lined up behind the President, they’ll need to toe the Trumpidian line, avoid criticizing the President, and make sure they vote the “right” way on issues such as health care reform and tax reform. Similarly, such candidates likely won’t need to worry about paying a price for such loyalty in the General Election unless there’s a wave election that even manages to impact solidly Republican districts and states, in which case they’ll be fighting for their political lives anyway. The issues are somewhat more complicated for Republicans running in purple states or districts, or in blue states or districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. In addition to worrying about a challenge from the right within their own party, these candidates have to consider whether being seen as too fully embracing this President, his agenda, and most especially his rhetoric could end up having a negative impact on their chances against a Democratic challenger in a General Election, especially if voters next year remain as dedicated to sending a message to Republicans in general and Trump in particular as the exit polls from Virginia make clear. For these Republicans, they’re left with the seemingly contradictory problem of having to be perceived as loyal to the President by the voters in their own party while seemingly being independent of him in the eyes of the much larger population of non-base voters

The problem for these voters, as Rich Lowry notes in his piece this morning at Politico, is that there is no running away from Trump:

[T]he Virginia race revealed a problem with the Trumpism without Trump construct — namely, that it’s not really possible.

First, it’s not going to be convincing to Trump-haters. Ed Gillespie — even an Ed Gillespie talking about cracking down on MS-13 — is not the slightest bit Trumpy. He is earnest, wonky and friendly. When he distanced himself from Trump, it was credible because he hadn’t been close to Trump to begin with. He had never met him, and all of Trump’s support on Twitter was unsolicited. One of the few times Gillespie even came close to losing his cool on the campaign trail was when he expressed irritation with reporters for asking him about Trump too much.

None of this made the slightest difference to voters in Northern Virginia, where Northam racked up margins bigger than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. These people weren’t showing up to send a message to Gillespie, the otherwise unthreatening candidate who happened to run a barrage of negative ads against Northam (not the first time this has happened in electoral politics). They were showing up to send a message to Trump, whom they believe is a clear and present danger to all that they hold dear. Gillespie could have revealed himself to be a secret member of #TheResistance, and these mobilized suburbanites still would have voted against him as the best way to make a gigantic rude gesture toward the president.

So as a sheer political matter, there can be no such thing as Trumpism without Trump, or Anti-Trumpism without Trump, or Anything Else without Trump. It is hard enough for a candidate to run away from a conventional president of his own party (Democrats couldn’t do it during midterm drubbings while Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were presidents); it is going be even harder with a president who dominates the media to an extent no other president has, and courts — nay, enjoys — radioactive controversies. Until further notice, the phenomenon we saw in 2016 of Republicans running successful, traditional campaigns at a polite remove from Trump has to be considered inoperative.

Then, there is the other, opposite problem: that Trumpism without Trump won’t be fully acceptable to Trumpists. They talk a lot about the “Trump agenda,” although what this means is vague. How could Gillespie have run on it more to their satisfaction? Promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it? To implement extreme vetting? To hire the best people and make the best deals? To work with Chuck and Nancy as the mood strikes him? The fact is that the Trump legislative agenda is entirely conventional (certainly Gillespie has no problem with it) and what sets Trump apart is his populist, guy-on-a-barstool persona and perpetual combativeness.

This is what his loyalists ultimately want everyone to sign up for, the personality. As Trump himself put it in a particularly classless tweet immediately after the Virginia result, Gillespie “did not embrace me or what I stand for.” The idea that this would have juiced turnout in Trump country enough to overcome Northam’s 9-point margin — Gillespie already did quite well in rural areas — is hard to credit.

Lowry is largely correct, of course. Even Republicans who try to distance themselves from Trump next year or beyond are going to find it next to impossible to fully protect themselves from an anti-Trump backlash because, for better or worse, Trump is the de facto head of the Republican Party as long as he’s in the Oval Office. Pushing back against the worst aspect of his Presidency may work in some isolated cases, particularly for politicians who have their own records to run on independent of the White House, but for the vast majority of Republicans there will be no getting away from an anti-Trump tsunami if that’s what we end up seeing in 2018.

FILED UNDER: 2017 Election, 2018 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Had Republicans possessed even an ounce of courage and integrity they could have erected a wall of separation between themselves and Trump. They could have kept him at arm’s length. But they are cowards and liars, not to mention hypocrites whose party has practiced a more genteel racism and misogyny for decades.

    I think the history on this is going to look very, very bad for Republicans. They betrayed their own country, degraded her institutions, attacked the freedom of American citizens and drastically reduced American power and prestige in the world.

  2. CSK says:

    Lowry’s right. What the Trumpkins love about Trump is that he’s a low-rent churl. They don’t care what he does or doesn’t do as long as he keeps behaving like an oaf.

  3. Gustopher says:

    His only real qualification is that he pisses off the right people, and he offered something different to people desperate enough to reach for anything different.

    That was enough to get him through the primary, and the popular-vote-loss-electoral-college-victory, but it doesn’t help the Republicans now.

    He’s pissing off more people than just the right people, and his “something different” hasn’t led to anything different. His policies are standard tea party, and he is amazingly ineffective at implementation.

    Republicans cannot distance themselves on policy, because they basically agree on policy. And he just sits there like a heat-bloated bag of garbage on a sunny day, stinking up the place. Trump has loser-stink.

    And that’s before any mass indictments.

    Republican Congresscritters’ best hope is that Trump has a heart attack on the toilet very soon, and people forget about him.

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Trump Is A Political Albatross

    Apparently you have not been reading Bunge’s comments, because the exact opposite is the true. He’ll be around to explain, soon, I’m sure.

    @michael reynolds:

    They betrayed their own country, degraded her institutions, attacked the freedom of American citizens and drastically reduced American power and prestige in the world.

    All so that they could give their wealthy overlords a massive tax cut.
    Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) on the Trumplican tax cut for the wealthy:

    “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’

  5. SenyorDave says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’“

    This should be an endless loop ad for the Democrats. If there was ever a time for economic populism,

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The beauty here is that his election is doing precisely what we predicted that it would do – putting unbearable stress on the fracture lines which were already tearing the Republican Party apart.

    The simple truth of the equation is that the GOP needs the support of the moderates AND the bible beaters AND the disaffected poorer whites / hardliner racists which make up its base in equal measure to win elections. Those moderates held their noses and voted Trump when faced with Hillary Clinton (who was admittedly a flawed candidate), but that won’t be the case in 2020. We are in the historic position of having a GOP president who alienates a chunk of his own party AND energizes our base in one fell swoop. Trump is like ipecac for suburban Republicans.

    Will that matter in Montana or Utah? No, but we can bet our well-compensated behinds that it will most definitely matter in the purple states.

  7. Jen says:

    OT: WaPo is reporting that Roy Moore had some pretty inappropriate interactions with a 14 y.o. girl back in the 70s.

  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    All so that they could give their wealthy overlords a massive tax cut.
    Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) on the Trumplican tax cut for the wealthy:

    “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’“

    And THAT, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the very loud voice of the Citizen’s United decision.

    Money talks, Unlimited Money from the 1% controls government and passes legislation.

    Gary Cohn: ‘The Most Excited Group Out There Are Big CEOs, About Our Tax Plan’

    Hey Rocky, watch me pull an economic boon out of my hat…. This is the NEW trickle down. This time, for sure!

  9. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting article in Politico about the Trump supporters in Jonestown.

    I don’t know if the journalist dug up some particularly odiferous samples, but the reaction of a lot of the commentators has been “not gonna support these racist idiots, no matter how crappy their lives become.”

    (Very much how a lot of the Remainers feel about the Brexiters, by the way.)

  10. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I read that, and I was going to suggest it. It’s excellent.

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Pious on the streets, kiddy diddler on the sheets. Always seems to work out that way, no?

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    but the reaction of a lot of the commentators has been “not gonna support these racist idiots, no matter how crappy their lives become.

    My own reaction, and I think I can speak for Reynolds here as well, is: then let them sit there and watch as their kids OD on opioids & the last gas station in their dying little burgs closes. They can waste away waiting for steel mills that will never reopen and deliverance that will never come. Enjoy.

    Short version: they’re no longer either my concern or my problem. 202-456-1414 is the number for the White House switchboard. They should give Cheetoh a call.

  13. Jen says:

    @grumpy realist: That article made my stomach churn. I’m saddened but not surprised. The bit about the golf–the guy not realizing how much more often Trump plays than any of his predecessors–was particularly galling (and a demonstration of how the FOX News bubble works).

  14. Kari Q says:

    The decent people have fled the party. All they are left with are wealthy narcissists and racists. Of course the wealthy narcissists are demanding their tax cut. They don’t appear to care about race, but it’s bad for their image to be tied to racists. It’s worth it if they get their tax cut, otherwise, what’s in it for them?

    The Republican Party and right-wing media weaponized stupid and are shocked and helpless now that the weapon has been turned on them. If only someone had been warning them for years that this was inevitable. It’s just too bad the entire country, and possibly the world, is paying the price along with them.

  15. charon says:


    Republican Congresscritters’ best hope is that Trump has a heart attack on the toilet very soon, and people forget about him.

    There was a long piece in the New Yorker recently on Mike Pence. who appears to be very influential on Trump.

    Pence is not just bigoted on racism and misogyny and homophobia. He is also very hard right on taxes and environment and conservation and all the rest of the GOP issues.

    Plus he is a real slimy kiss-up operator, too. So I am rooting for Trump to finish out his term, Pence would be worse, apart from being more acceptable to other Republicans.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @Kari Q: Very much like Brexit and the U.K…..

    Eh. My attitude has been “stupidity should hurt.” Sometimes the only way people learn is by getting burned…..particularly true in light of the fact that humans are neurologically programmed to not change decisions, even when the decision has been shown to be wrong.

    Happy is he who can learn from other people’s mistakes, or can quickly reverse a bad decision, rather than having to suffer the pain himself.

    And sometimes….sometimes the Ural Mountains have to become radioactive.

  17. CSK says:

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) has announced that he won’t seek re-election, so there’s another opening for a Democrat.

    So much winning. Right, Mangolini?

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    Trump is just a symptom. The Republican’s problem is not Trump per se, but the Trump voters.

  19. dmichael says:

    @Jen: Let’s not be genteel: What he has allegedly done is child molestation. Oh, and by the way, it is too late to swap Moore for someone else. Heh, heh. See

  20. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    Roy Moore had some pretty inappropriate interactions with a 14 y.o. girl back in the 70s.

    Well that comports with Trumplican branding guidelines pretty closely.

  21. dmichael says:

    Again, off topic but I can’t resist: Alabama Republican Senate candidate and defrocked state supreme court justice Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore vehemently denies sexually abusing minors and Republican Senate leaders call for him to “step down” “if charges are true.”
    I love the smell of Republican flop sweat in the morning.

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The Republican’s problem is that they have a party leader / symbol that will force the party into an untenable choice. No matter which way they go, they alienate and anger part of their base.

    And we get to profit from it.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: It seems that the bulk of the Trump Chumps are supporting Trump because he manifests the sort of belligerent bullying they wish they could do to everyone around them but don’t dare. So they don’t care if Trump never carries out any of his promises. It’s politics as entertainment: “do whatever pisses off the liberals, updated daily” as the old saw has it. The fact that they continue to live in crappy surroundings with no future is irrelevant. They’ll gladly put up with it just as long as they can pull “those elites” down.

    Very much a crab bucket mentality, in fact.

    And then there are the other set of Trump voters are those who hated Hillary more than they did Trump and decided to “take a chance” on Trump. It is this group that is trickling away from him.

  24. de stijl says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Interesting article in Politico about the Trump supporters in Jonestown.

    They drank the Kool-Aid.


    Thanks, folks! I’ll be here all week. Remember to tip your server and try the veal! Good night!

  25. SKI says:


    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) has announced that he won’t seek re-election, so there’s another opening for a Democrat.

    Highly unlikely. Both Trump and Gillespie got 60% in that district.

    He is most likely retiring because he is term-limited for his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee.

  26. de stijl says:


    Goodlatte won’t be hurtin’.

    Dude’s got mad barista skillz.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    Great post over at Balloon Juice about how China (and the rest of Asia) is flattering Trump into submission.

    Next thing we’re gonna hear is that the U.S. has decided to not come to the defense of Taiwan if China makes a move. Price by the Chinese? 1 bucket of KFC….

    No wonder Russia spent so much effort manipulating social media to get Trump elected: one sucker president, served straight up.

  28. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “Price by the Chinese? 1 bucket of KFC…”

    Well, that and the hundreds of trademarks the Chinese government has been granting Trump businesses since the start of this year…

  29. michael reynolds says:


    You can’t help people who don’t want to do anything to make their lives better. If you live in a place where there are no jobs, move to a place where the jobs are. If you aren’t willing to endure the hardship, that’s on you. If you’re offered retraining and won’t do it, that’s on you, too. We offered the working poor health care coverage, they rejected it. We raised our own taxes to help support these people and they despise us for it and run to the game show host and giggle while he calls us names.

    So, yeah, my attitude is, ‘FU people, enjoy your president’s destruction of the country you pretend to love while he shovels money at the well-off.’ I don’t hate these people, I don’t despise them for the poverty – been there myself – but in the end you simply cannot save a man bent on self-destruction.

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:..And that’s before any mass indictments.
    Yesterday Judge Amy B Jackson issued this ORDER.

    Therefore, in order to safeguard defendants’ rights to a fair trial, and to ensure that the Court has the ability to seat a jury that has not been tainted by pretrial publicity, all interested participants in the matter, including the parties, any potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses, are hereby ORDERED to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.
    DATE: November 8, 2017

    Most accounts I have read make this out to be a gag on the ambulance chasers in this case.
    What I read is all interested participants in the matter.
    If Trump keeps up his jabbering wouldn’t he by definition be an interested participant in the matter?
    Can the Judge shut him up?

  31. Hal_10000 says:

    Last year, Warren Meyer said the GOP had shackled itself to a suicide bomber. It just took a little longer than expected for the bomb to go off.

  32. Monala says:


    Will that matter in Montana or Utah?

    You never know. Montana’s capital just elected a progressive Democrat and Liberian refugee as mayor.

  33. charon says:

    Any primary challengers to Trump in 2020 would have an uphill slog.

    Conservative media is in the tank for Trump – I think they still would be in 2020.

    It is not just Fox, the other big-name conservative media also.

    Fox, facing new competitors, clings tighter to Trump

    The network that sparred with him as a candidate now rarely challenges him.


    11/09/2017 05:05 AM EST

  34. charon says:



    Fox News declined additional comment for this story.

    Though Fox News remains tops in the ratings, competition is swirling around the network. The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group is working to complete a $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Broadcasting, which would allow its free broadcasts to reach 72 percent of U.S. households. Ruddy’s Newsmax TV currently has nowhere near Fox’s reach, but it is also looking to grow. POLITICO has reported that Newsmax recently signed a deal with Dish Network to increase its distribution.

    And Ruddy was scheduled to meet with Bill O’Reilly this week in New York to discuss a potential spot on the network. Rumors have also linked O’Reilly and Sinclair, though its CEO and president, Chris Ripley, has denied any interest.

    Beyond the TV world, there are a host of sites — starting with Breitbart — that threaten Fox News’ primacy over discourse on the right.

    “There’s a lot of conservative media out there,” said Joseph Bonner, a senior analyst for communications and technology at Argus Research. “If Fox thinks the threat is from the right or the Trumpists, however you want to put it, to inoculate against that threat, you want to have that point of view.”

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: A thumbsdown because that was PAINFUL!!!!

  36. Mr. Prosser says:

    @charon: You are absolutely correct on this. Pence is way more worrisome and president.

  37. Mr. Prosser says:

    @charon: You are absolutely correct on this. Pence is way more worrisome as president.He’s McConnell’s and Ryan’s dream.

  38. Grumpy Realist says:

    @wr: speaking from painful experience–it’s not the trademarks; it’s whether the other “visually confusing” trademarks get awarded.

    After all, a trademark means zip if something very much like it can be gobbled up by an infringer.

  39. Tom Ersin says:
  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tom Ersin:

    Please stop shilling for your own blog on here, especially on multiple threads. It’s tacky.