It’s been a good five years or so since Democrats were truly happy on a big election night.
2016 certainly wasn’t one of those times. Democrats watched in horror as Donald Trump won the presidency, a scenario that many people around the country thought was impossible. And all the talk about potentially retaking the Senate evaporated as Republicans won races that seemed like long shots.
Most Democrats point to 2012, when Barack Obama was re-elected, as the last happy time. One Democrat reminded HuffPost of 2013, when Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia gubernatorial race, making history as a Democrat able to win in the state despite the same party being in the White House.
Regardless, it’s been a while.
So many Democrats couldn’t believe their eyes Tuesday when they saw the string of blue victories across the country. The party won the gubernatorial race in Virginia by a large margin. It took the governor’s seat in New Jersey away from GOP control. It won far more seats in the Virginia House of Delegates than anyone expected. And it flipped seats and had historic wins elsewhere.
The wins showed the limits of Trump’s brand of politics and validated the thousands of people around the country who joined the resistance after last year’s election.
“There is a lot more work still to do, but as anniversaries go, this was something of a catharsis,” said Brian Fallon, who served as the Clinton campaign spokesman. “Republicans like [Virginia gubernatorial candidate] Ed Gillespie made a deliberate choice to put Trumpism on the ballot, making the Democratic success yesterday all the more redemptive. Everyday people are stepping up to run for office and making a statement that they will not let their country be defined by what happened on November 8, 2016, and thank God for that.”
Democrats were worried a Gillespie win would encourage more Republicans to run on a platform like Trump’s. Gillespie played up the nativist rhetoric that pushed Trump to victory in 2016. And the president touted Gillespie’s candidacy, even recording robocalls to boost him.
Between Tuesday’s losses and the defeat of Trump’s preferred candidate in the Alabama Senate GOP primary just over a month ago, the Republican Party ― and the president himself ― is learning the limits of his appeal.
Trump boasted last year that if he stood in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and shot someone, he still wouldn’t lose any supporters. That twisted scenario may be true (luckily it hasn’t been tested), but it’s clear that Trump at least isn’t invincible. As Tuesday showed, his actions do have consequences, and people who are repulsed by what he does will step up and try to stop him.
Tuesday’s victories were aided in large part by the grassroots movement that formed in the wake of Trump’s win. Those groups have quickly become part of the progressive infrastructure and work closely with the local Democratic parties.
In Virginia, for example, there are more than 180 active Indivisible chapters that made more than 600,000 calls around Tuesday’s elections.
“The sweeping victories in races that had previously been considered unwinnable show that the progressive movement is an energized, locally led and transformative force,” said Maria Urbina, Indivisible’s political director. “Politicians who fail to stand up against Trump should take notice, because we’re just getting started. A progressive wave is coming, and 2018 is around the corner.”
Women have led the resistance. They mobilized for the Women’s March in January, and a record number of women have been running for public office.
There were some moments of comeuppance in Tuesday night’s victories. Danica Roem won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the first openly transgender lawmaker in the state’s history. She defeated Del. Bob Marshall (R), who introduced legislation that would have prohibited transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice.
Democrat Ashley Bennett won a seat as a freeholder in Atlantic County, New Jersey. She was inspired to run after seeing a Republican politician joke about whether the Women’s March would be “over in time for them to cook dinner.” That man is the incumbent she defeated Tuesday.