Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Trump turns again on immigration, offers a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million “Dreamers” — Critics holler “No to Amnesty!”

January 26, 2018

U.S. Jobless Claims Plunge to Lowest Weekly Tally Since 1973

January 18, 2018


By Katia Dmitrieva

 Updated on 

U.S. filings for unemployment benefits plummeted to the lowest level in almost 45 years in a sign the job market will tighten further in 2018, Labor Department figures showed Thursday.


  • Jobless claims decreased by 41k to 220k (est. 249k); lowest level since Feb. 1973, biggest drop since April 2009
  • Continuing claims rose by 76k to 1.952m in week ended Jan. 6 (data reported with one-week lag)
  • Four-week average of initial claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, fell to 244,500 from the prior week’s 250,750

Key Takeaways

The drop in claims shows that companies are increasingly holding on to their employees amid a shortage of skilled labor. Businesses are struggling to find workers to fill positions, particularly in manufacturing and construction, as cited in some anecdotes for the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book released Wednesday.

The figures suggest the unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, already the lowest since 2000, could be poised to decline further. The latest week for claims includes the 12th of the month, which is the reference period for the Labor Department’s monthly employment surveys.

Caveats for the latest numbers include the fact that the week was sandwiched between two periods containing holidays, when data tend to be more volatile. In addition, more states than usual had estimated figures.

Other Details

  • Prior week’s reading was unrevised at 261,000
  • Unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits rose to 1.4 percent from 1.3 percent in previous week
  • Claims were estimated for Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Wyoming
  • New York’s unadjusted claims fell by 26,190 to 23,171; California’s estimated, unadjusted claims rose by 11,994 to 59,284

— With assistance by Chris Middleton, and Vince Golle

As 2018 Nears, Both U.S. Parties Sail Into Tricky Political Winds

December 18, 2017

GOP faces stiff headwinds, but the map is a challenge for Democrats

Democrats face structural impediments to retaking control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.
Democrats face structural impediments to retaking control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections. PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

A senior Republican in Congress was musing about the Washington landscape a couple of days ago, as his party neared the finish line on a landmark bill to rewrite the nation’s tax system.

The Republican Congress and President Donald Trump have been more successful this year than is generally acknowledged, he argued. In addition to that tax bill, Republicans have rolled back regulations, confirmed a swath of conservative judges and begun ramping up spending on defense—all actions immensely pleasing to their base.

Then he turned to the party’s political condition. “Politically,” he said, “it’s a very dangerous time.”

As that paradoxical assessment suggests, leaders of both parties face an extraordinarily complex political picture as the year draws to a close and 2018 midterm elections approach.

The Republicans’ tax-bill success, likely to be finalized in the next couple of days, will re-energize a party base discouraged by earlier setbacks and help ease doubts about whether the GOP can get things done when fully in charge.

Yet Republicans face a significant challenge in selling that tax bill to a public that appears broadly skeptical of its virtues and fairness. They also have suffered significant defeats in recent high-profile elections, are led by a polarizing president whose popularity continues to sag, and see slumping poll numbers nationally.

Meanwhile, Democrats face their own set of mixed indicators. They have those big recent election victories, in Virginia and Alabama, to energize their base and their donors. Fired-up candidates are lining up to run as Democrats next year, and a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds voters saying by a double-digit margin they want Democrats to control Congress after next year’s elections.

What the Tax Bill’s Passage Will Mean for 2018 Politics
Senate Republicans have lined up behind the final version of a tax-overhaul bill, setting the stage for final passage this week. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains the immediate political impact the bill will have. Photo: AP

Yet Democrats also face structural impediments in the current political system that will make it harder for them to achieve the kinds of gains such poll numbers suggest, and they confront a potentially destabilizing internal philosophical divide that could easily grow in coming months.

The big question is what this complicated equation will add up to in 2018. Those midterm elections now will begin occupying an increasing amount of Washington’s time and energy because both sides know their outcome will shape the last two years of the current Trump presidential terDemocrats would need to take over 24 seats now occupied by Republicans to win control of the House, and a mere two seats to take the Senate. The broad political indicators suggest both are possible.

In the new Journal/NBC News poll, voters indicate by 50% to 39% that they want Democrats to win control of Congress next year, while Mr. Trump’s job approval stands at 41%. Those numbers look an awful lot like those just before the 2006 midterm elections, when Democrats took back control of Congress and delivered a painful blow to Republican President George W. Bush.

Yet 11 months remain before the midterms, ample time for big events—think North Korea—to alter the landscape. Moreover, the political system is significantly more complex than it was in 2006, making it hard to figure out whether traditional barometers tell us what they once did.

“There are some structural limits that could temper the advantages” Democrats now appear to enjoy, says Doug Sosnik, a longtime Democratic strategist and top adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

In the race for control of the Senate, it is the Democrats’ misfortune that they have to defend 24 seats next year, while Republicans must defend only eight. Moreover, 10 of those Democratic seats are in states Mr. Trump won, five in states he won by double-digit margins.

In the House, Republican-led redistricting efforts have left many GOP members in districts so solidly red that they likely will be able to survive even a midsize national Democratic wave. Indeed, the authoritative Cook Political Report lists just 40 House Republican seats as highly competitive—that is, in races that are toss-ups or only lean one way or the other. Even in a good year for them, Democrats’ opportunities will be limited, and they’ll have to make good on most of them to prevail.

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Charlie Cook, who oversees the political report that carries his name, summarizes the situation this way: “Republicans could hardly face tougher headwinds, nor could Democrats face a tougher map.”

The best news for Democrats, Mr. Sosnik says, is evidence from Virginia and Alabama of high enthusiasm for them among crucial voting blocs, particularly African-Americans and suburban women.

The challenge for Democrats is to avoid seeing that enthusiasm damped by an internal fight between progressive activists, who think they are delivering the energy, and moderates, who think they are delivering the centrist and independent votes needed for broad victories. Democrats’ hope for a big wave will require both—and that won’t be easy.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at

GOP is shackled to Trump

November 13, 2017

By Juan Williams
The Hill
November 13, 2017

Well, there goes the fake news.

It is real news that Republicans got shellacked last Tuesday in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.

And it is real news that President Trump’s grip as the party’s leader loosened for the first time since he claimed the White House.

Republican running in 2018 saw the reality of an anti-Trump wave among white suburban voters. House Republicans rely on votes from suburban areas to keep their majorities in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida.


Republicans currently hold 23 seats in congressional districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 11 in districts she lost by fewer than five percentage points.

The anger at Trump was evident in exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research.

In Virginia, Republican Ed Gillespie won 91 percent of voters who “approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president.” Democrat Ralph Northam won 87 percent of those who disapprove.

In essence, Gillespie had all the Trump voters. But there just weren’t enough of them and Northam won easily, by nine points.

People upset with Trump turned out in big numbers. In fact, exit polls showed one-third of the electorate wanted to send a message of opposition to Trump with their vote for governor.

Now the urgent fear among Republicans on Capitol Hill is a 2018 landslide for Democrats as voters turn on Trump.

The vote in Virginia comes on the heels of Trump’s disapproval hitting 57 percent in the latest Fox News poll.

The president’s support among white men without a college degree is down to 56 percent from the 71 percent who voted for him a year ago. He has lost support among white evangelicals, with 66 percent supporting him now instead of the 80 percent that voted for him. He has also seen his support among independents slide from 46 percent in 2016 to 30 percent today.

Trump’s support among self-identified Republicans remains high at 83 percent in the Fox poll, but fewer people overall are identifying themselves as Republicans.

That sets the stage for the battle to claim the future of the party going into the 2018 races.

On one side, you have Trump and Steve Bannon, his former top political aide. On the other side are the Presidents Bush, both 41 and 43, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) trapped in the ring and ducking punches from both sides.

The fight comes down to a contest between Trump’s anti-immigrant, isolationist, white grievance politics and the Bush policies favoring immigration, free trade and growing the party through outreach to racial minorities.

After last week’s defeat in Virginia, Trump and Bannon quickly threw dirt on Gillespie. Trump said Gillespie did “not embrace me or what I stand for.” Bannon piled on by saying the “lesson” of the loss was that future Republican candidates must avoid campaigning with President George W. Bush and “embrace the entire Trump agenda,” to the point of taking Trump on the campaign trail.

But Gillespie, the former party chairman, did use Trump-like advertising that focused on stirring fear of immigrants by tying them to MS-13 gangs; he did defend Confederate statues; and he did attack athletes kneeling to protest police brutality.

Gillespie lost because Virginia voters rejected Trump’s politics.

The Bush team also punched back.

“This guy doesn’t know what it means to be president,” the younger President Bush said of Trump in an interview for a new book.

“I don’t like him,” the elder President Bush told author Mark Updegrove. “I don’t know much about [Trump] but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being our leader.”

The Bush’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from Trump’s White House

“If one presidential candidate can disassemble a political party, it speaks volumes about how strong a legacy its past two presidents really had,” an unnamed White House official told CNN. “And that begins with the Iraq war, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history.”

The split between Bush-style establishment conservatism and Trump populism has already hurt the party with about two dozen House Republicans announcing this is a good time for them to leave.

That rush for the door comes as polls show “voters say they prefer Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives over Republicans by the widest margin in over a decade,” the Washington Post reported before Tuesday’s GOP collapse.

Ryan said last week that despite the intraparty fight, it is too late for his House caucus to do anything but side with Trump on the future of the party.

“We already made that choice,” Ryan said on Fox News Radio. “We’re with Trump. We already made that choice… That’s a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas.”

What must Republican congressional candidates be thinking today when their Speaker tells them they are handcuffed to a president who has the lowest approval rating in 70 years? At what point do they ignore the Speaker’s directive, cut ties with the president and strike out on their own?

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job, while 59 percent disapprove. In the history of the poll, no American president has had a net negative rating so high in his ninth month in office since Harry Truman in 1945.

But Ryan has the real news: Every Republican on the ballot in 2018 will have Donald Trump as a running mate.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.


Republicans Take Stock After Election Losses

November 9, 2017

Both parties re-examine plans for 2018 House and Senate campaigns following Democratic victories

Virginia Gov.-elect, Ralph Northam at a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond Wednesday. Photo: Steve Helber/Associated Press

Republicans scrambled Wednesday to prevent a potential Democratic wave in next year’s midterm elections after a political shellacking Tuesday fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump.

The results of elections from Virginia to Washington state produced Democratic victories up and down the ballot, prompting both parties to take fresh looks at their plans for House and Senate campaigns next year.

For Republicans in swing districts, the failed campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in Virginia was a reminder of the complex landscape ahead of them. Mr. Gillespie tried to walk a line by embracing Mr. Trump’s agenda but not campaigning alongside the GOP president.

He lost to Ralph Northam by 9 percentage points, the largest victory margin for a Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate since 1985. Mr. Northam notched even wider margins among women and suburban voters who will be central to key House battleground districts.

“It was a referendum on the president for many of them,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican who heard that message even in local races in his swing district in suburban Philadelphia. “You had a lot more people, a lot more people vote Democrat than they ever had before.”

Bryan Lanza, who worked for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, said in an interview that the vote should be a wake-up call for Republicans who have not delivered on policy.

“Last night showed the voters are frustrated with the status quo and inaction,” Mr. Lanza said. “Republicans were punished at the polls, and it’s painful.”

House Republicans have long said that passing a tax overhaul was necessary for them to retain their House majority, but after Tuesday’s loss in Virginia some said that even that might not be sufficient.

“This really is a sort of do-or-die moment, in my view, in terms of holding the majority,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.), referring to the tax legislation. “It doesn’t guarantee you success, but it’s a precondition for success.”

Democrats were surprised by the magnitude of their electoral wins, which overshadowed for now intraparty disagreements over how to recover from their bitter loss to Mr. Trump last year. Their wins came in both marquee races and more-obscure corners of the U.S. political map, which underscored for them the importance of fielding candidates even in long-shot districts to catch whatever political wave may form next year, strategists said.

In Virginia, Democrats not only swept the governor’s mansion and two other statewide offices, they are tantalizingly close to winning control of the House of Delegates. Democrats flipped at least 15 seats; if they pick up one more of the yet-to-be-settled races, Republicans would lose their majority. The last time Democrats ran the chamber was 1999.

In New Jersey, a Democratic victory in the gubernatorial race means the party will control both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, beginning in January.

The election of one new Democratic state senator in Washington state flipped party control of the chamber from Republican to Democratic.



In Georgia, Democrats won three state legislative special elections, including two in districts that were considered safely GOP. That cost Republicans their supermajority in the state Senate.

Political analysts and operatives from both parties caution against over reading the implications of one election for another especially when the next one is a year away.

Mr. Trump sought on Tuesday to pre-empt suggestions that the Virginia loss was a reflection on him, tweeting that Mr. Gillespie “did not embrace me or what I stand for.” The president’s associates continued the damage control Wednesday, with one calling reporters in for a briefing to say the result was “not about the president.”

But the impact of the president’s unpopularity was clear in the bitterly fought Virginia race. According to exit polls, 57% of Virginia voters said they disapproved of the job Mr. Trump was doing. Of those voters, 87% voted for Mr. Northam.

Asked what message they were sending with their vote, 34% said they were voting to express disapproval of the president—twice as many as said they were voting to express support for him.

“The level of intensity, the level of antipathy to Trump is so palpable,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.). “The desire of our base and independents troubled by Trump is just red-hot to do something. So when you offer them something, like an election, they came out in droves.”

There is historical precedent for the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races serving as a bellwether for the first midterm election of a new presidency. In 1994, 2006 and 2010—the last three times control of the House changed parties—the midterm result was foretold by the party that won the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races the year before.

Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take control of the House. Key targets are the 23 Republican-held districts where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Trump in 2016. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said it aims to put 80 districts in play and has managed to recruit candidates in 75 of them so far.

“That strategy of building a huge battlefield with great candidates, even in really tough districts, is going to be crucial,” said Tyler Law, the committee’s spokesman.

In Virginia, Democrats made a concerted effort to field challengers for Republicans in the House of Delegates who had gone unopposed in the past. The candidate field was notably diverse, including the first openly transgender person to win state legislative office. They ended up winning at least 15 seats —far more than even the most optimistic partisans expected.

“It was beyond imaginable,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of the liberal group As returns rolled in, he said, “it felt like the Fourth of July, with fireworks going off every few minutes.”

Some activists believe the grass-roots campaigns behind the state legislative candidates helped drive turnout statewide, perhaps compensating for the tepid support some progressives felt for Mr. Northam, a soft-spoken former army doctor. Stephanie Taylor, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, called it a “reverse coattail” effect.

“We saw statewide candidates boosted by the energy of inspiring down-ballot candidates,” she said.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the GOP couldn’t afford to run away from a president so popular with the party base. “I will always say to any candidate in our party, the greatest enthusiasm in our party right now is for President Trump,” she said in an interview on Fox.

Many Republicans in swing districts will face the same conundrum that Mr. Gillespie confronted in Virginia. Can they run with Mr. Trump without risking alienating swing voters and can they run without him if they want to hold on to his supporters?

Some vulnerable Republicans said Wednesday that they would seek to brand themselves as independent operators not bound to Mr. Trump’s confrontational style and populism.

“People understand that I’m very much an independent and I’m going to continue being an independent and a moderate,” said Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican whose district Mrs. Clinton won last year.

Mr. Katko noted that one day earlier, he had been elected co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, a coalition of more than 50 centrist Republicans. “My brand, if you will, is well known to my local constituents,” he said.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that GOP leaders will do their best to arm incumbents for battle in the face of political winds they already knew were blowing hard against them.

“I don’t think we needed last night’s results to tell us next year was going to be extremely competitive,” Mr. Hunt said. He added that the best way to counter the energy among anti-Trump Democratic voters is to invoke the person who energizes the GOP base: Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader who often figures in Republican campaign ads.

“We are going to make this election about Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Hunt said.

—Peter Nicholas
and Joshua Jamerson contributed to this article.


In Virginia, Democrats Learn the Shape of an Anti-Trump Coalition

November 8, 2017

Northam won by nearly double Clinton’s margin, riding wave of energy that carried down ballot

It is hard to interpret Ralph Northam’s decisive victory as anything other than a reaction to President Donald Trump.
It is hard to interpret Ralph Northam’s decisive victory as anything other than a reaction to President Donald Trump. PHOTO: WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

In their rousing election victories in Virginia on Tuesday, Democrats learned two important things: They found out what an anti-Trump coalition looks like, and they discovered it can be a winning one.

That coalition combines upper-scale white voters, millennials, minorities, suburban women and single women. Exit polling indicates that those groups not only went heavily for Democratic victor Ralph Northam in the governor’s race, but performed better for him than they did for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

That tide produced a stunning nine-point victory for Mr. Northam—almost twice as large as the margin by which Mrs. Clinton carried the state—and it’s hard to interpret it as anything other than a reaction to President Donald Trump. He is the biggest actor on every political stage right now; almost everything happens in the Trump context.

In fact, the best news for Democrats may have been the signs that their wave of energy carried beyond the top race and down the ballot to elections for the state House of Delegates. Many thought Mr. Northam could win at the top of the ballot (though most concluded only barely), but nobody thought Democrats would be on the verge of turning the state legislature blue.

Still, there also are multiple, less-obvious cautionary notes for Democrats in Virginia, starting with the tendency to over-interpret such an off-off-year election.

Beyond that, this winning coalition brought decisive margins in blue parts of the state—the Washington suburbs, college towns and upper-scale coastal areas—but it wasn’t enough to break into the swath of red territory in central and southern Virginia. That part of the state continues to look and act a lot like Trump country in the interior of America.

Mrs. Clinton learned what happens in a presidential race when you run up victories, even big ones, in areas Democrats are strong but don’t crack through in areas where the party is weaker.

Moreover, Democratic success in Virginia probably will do more to paper over than resolve the Democrats’ split between establishment groups and the party’s progressive wing. Liberals had backed former Rep. Tom Perriello in the primary, were under-enthused by Mr. Northam, and thought he should have stressed economic issues more. They were particularly unhappy when he hedged his position supporting sanctuary cities that provide a haven for undocumented aliens. In short, the residual problem for Democrats is that progressives wanted a different kind of candidate and a different kind of campaign.

The good news for them, of course, is that all signs suggest that liberal activists largely swallowed those misgivings and went to work, and to the polls, anyway. We’ll see which side of the coin—tensions at the beginning or unity at the end—proves to be the most important dynamic elsewhere.

The underlying proposition of the campaign of losing Republican Ed Gillespie, meanwhile, was that he could win by having, in the words of populist political crusader Stephen Bannon, “Trumpism without Trump.” That is, that Mr. Gillespie could embrace Trump-like themes—the dangers from violent immigrants, the virtues of Confederate monuments—without embracing Mr. Trump himself personally.

It didn’t work as hoped, obviously. Why? For an answer, look at how two particularly energized Democratic groups performed Tuesday in Virginia.

Single women, inspired by Hillary Clinton and the chance to elect the nation’s first female president, were a big part of the Clinton coalition in 2016. But, one year after Mr. Trump became president, they turned out to be an even more-potent part of the Ralph Northam coalition.

Exit polling by Edison Media Research for the Washington Post and other news organizations shows that unmarried women went for the Democrat by a stunning 77% to 22% margin. That is to say, they went Democratic by more than three to one. The Democratic vote among single women this time was 16 percentage points higher than the vote they produced for Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

There is little except the arrival of a President Trump to explain the difference. In short, single women look an awful lot like a constituency that is newly energized.

Second, consider the performance of millennials, a core Democratic constituency, on Tuesday. NextGen America, a liberal activist group, chose nine precincts across Virginia where millennials make up a majority and monitored them to determine enthusiasm among young voters.

In each precinct—most around college campuses—residents aged 18 to 40 made up at least 60% of voters. In all of them, voter turnout was up over the totals seen in the governor’s election four years ago. In the area around Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, turnout more than doubled.

Energy matters in politics. And on Tuesday in Virginia, at least, Democrats seemed to capture it.

A Tale of Two Republicans

November 3, 2017

Ed Gillespie takes a far more constructive approach to Trump than Jeff Flake does.

Ed Gillespie during a campaign event in Tysons, Va., Oct. 26.
Ed Gillespie during a campaign event in Tysons, Va., Oct. 26. PHOTO: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Jeff Flake last week took to the Senate floor to proclaim that since he would not be “complicit or silent” in the Trump presidency, he will not seek re-election. The first-term Arizona senator bemoaned that as a “traditional Republican,” he had a “narrower and narrow path” to office in this Trump world.

The speech earned Mr. Flake all the plaudits you’d expect, from all the usual suspects. Conservative Never Trumpers and the media “resistance” believe the president is destroying the Republican Party, the country, democracy and the universe—in that order. Those who join in their daily denouncements of Mr. Trump receive standing ovations. Those who don’t are falsely accused, to quote Mr. Flake in his speech, of “complete and unquestioning loyalty” and duly excommunicated from “moral” conservative society.

Yes, Mr. Trump is a wrecking ball; and yes, conservatives have a right and a duty to worry about the damage he may do to the Republican Party and its principles. Where the Never Trumpers err is in insisting that the only response is full-on resistance, shaming and utter denunciation. Not only is that approach simplistic, it is a proven loser.

Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake on Capitol Hill, Oct. 31.
Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake on Capitol Hill, Oct. 31.PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG

Mr. Flake is a case in point. Among elected officials, he is rivaled perhaps only by Ohio Gov. John Kasich as loudest Never Trumper. The senator doesn’t like the president’s views on trade or immigration (join the club). But like Mr. Kasich, he has rarely bothered to spell out specific areas where he disagreed with Mr. Trump, or to note the significant points of agreement (deregulation, judges, etc.). His is a blanket condemnation. In Mr. Flake’s new book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” he compares Mr. Trump’s politics to a “late-night infomercial.”

This sweeping reproof was a sign to Trump supporters in Arizona that Mr. Flake either didn’t know or didn’t care why they support this president. So they wrote him off—much as he wrote off Mr. Trump. Mr. Flake was never going to get Democratic support, and once he alienated half of his state’s Republican voters, of course his path to re-election was narrow. Mr. Flake blew himself out of office, and he is now in a much poorer position to make any difference in the shape of Washington policies or the future of his party.

Contrast this approach to that of Ed Gillespie, whom the Never Trumpers are branding a sellout. The longtime (traditional) Republican nearly won a Senate seat in Virginia three years ago and now is running for governor in the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried last year. Virginia is a swing state for Republicans—much tougher than Arizona. Its voters are down on Mr. Trump, and Mr. Gillespie faces a well-funded Democratic candidate in Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

Yet the latest polls suggest Mr. Gillespie could pull this off. He’s broadened his path to office by employing the very different strategy of attempting to navigate—and where possible, unite—the GOP’s Trump and non-Trump factions.

Consider his dual approach to immigration and crime. Mr. Gillespie’s Senate campaign was a model in 2014 for its outreach to immigrants, and he is building on that now with a heavy pitch of inclusivity to minority communities. He’s released ads in Spanish and Korean and is stressing his pro-jobs agenda to the state’s growing Asian-American community. All this is crucial to the GOP’s future, reassuring to moderate voters, and utterly un-Trumpian.

On the flip side, Mr. Gillespie has taken a strong line against illegal and criminal aliens. His ads accusing Mr. Northam of being soft on the international MS-13 crime gang prompted Never Trumpers to accuse him of catering to a nativist Trump base. But MS-13 has engaged in brutal murders, and is of concern to Trump voters and Northern Virginia suburbanites alike. And it is true that Mr. Northam cast a tie-breaking Virginia Senate vote in favor of sanctuary cities.

On both policy and political grounds, this is a smart and reasonable way to straddle the party’s different factions. And the recognition of Trump voter concerns about illegal-alien crime is likely the best means by which (traditional) Republicans give themselves the running room to push for more compassionate immigration reform for folks like the Dreamers. Which is what Mr. Flake claims he wants.

The Never Trumpers are also accusing Mr. Gillespie of cowardice for failing to disown the president. Why should he? Mr. Gillespie has diligently focused his campaign on the local jobs-and-economy issues that matter most to Virginians. Beyond that, he has offered criticism of specific Trump actions and praise of others. Call them as you see them. That’s a fair approach in the age of Trump.

The important part: It gives Mr. Gillespie a fighting chance—and, should he win, a powerful perch from which he can help navigate his party through the Trumpian gales. It all might not be as cathartic as an emotional Senate speech. But it will go a lot further to help conservatism survive this presidency.

Write to

Appeared in the November 3, 2017, print edition.

Virginia gubernatorial election campaign features an attack ad about a convited child porn criminal voting for the Democrat — Convicted felons retain their right to vote in Virginia

October 26, 2017

A new TV spot in the Virginia gubernatorial election captures an unusual political moment for criminal-justice reform.

OCT 24, 2017


Image may contain: 2 people

Ed Gillespie (right) with opponent Ralph Northam . Credit Steve Helber – AP

Virginians aren’t enjoying a one-year pause in campaign ads like most other Americans in 2017. The commonwealth’s airwaves are saturated by TV spots from Ralph Northam, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, and Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman. Whichever candidate takes the governor’s mansion will also hand their party a morale boost ahead of next year’s midterms.
Into this high-stakes contest Gillespie has dropped one of the most unusual campaign ads of the year, which melds tough-on-crime fear-mongering—long a staple of political persuasion—with establishment-Republican nods to compassionate criminal-justice reform. In doing so, the spot highlights reform’s unpredictable future in the age of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions.

The ad takes aim at current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s program restoring convicted felons’ right to vote. Virginia is one of four states where a person loses the franchise entirely after they are convicted of a felony-level offense. McAuliffe first tried to use his pardon power to restore the rights of 200,000 Virginians in one blow. Republican lawmakers successfully challenged the en masse order in court, so the governor began signing the orders individually, totaling more than 168,000 to date. McAuliffe’s move stands out as perhaps the boldest concrete step to reverse mass incarceration’s effects on individuals’ agency that the country has seen so far.
At the same time, the policy’s breadth left it open to narrow attacks like the one made by Gillespie. Here’s the first half of the ad’s narration:

Last year, Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam instituted the automatic restoration of rights for violent felons and sex offenders, making it easier for them to obtain firearms and allowing them to serve on juries. One of these felons, John Bowen, had his rights restored two months after being found with one of the largest child-pornography collections in Virginia’s history. Forty-three prosecutors—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—opposed Ralph Northam’s reckless policy. Now, Virginia law enforcement has endorsed Ed Gillespie for governor.

This part of the ad somewhat obscures Bowen’s timeline: The Times-Dispatch says McAuliffe restored the rights he lost from a previous conviction, and that Bowen had only been arrested and not yet convicted of the new offenses when the restoration happened. But the overall aesthetic evokes the tough-on-crime ads that dominated campaigning in the 1980s and 1990s: If you vote for my opponent, your family will be less safe.

In that sense, Gillespie’s new ad isn’t surprising, echoing its predecessors from all levels of American elections, with the infamous Willie Horton ad standing out in that dismal field. While the antagonist in this spot is white—unlike Horton, a black man George H.W. Bush’s campaign spotlighted in 1988—Gillespie’s campaign hasn’t shied away from appeals to racial animus, especially in the context of public safety. He maintained his support for Confederate statues after the white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. And he’s run multiple ads portraying Northam as too soft on MS-13, a Latin American gang and a political specter frequently invoked by the Trump administration.
But what’s truly unusual about the ad is how the message changes in its second half. From the transcript:

Virginians who have paid their debt to society and are living an honest life should have their rights restored. But Ralph Northam’s policy of automatic restoration of rights for unrepentant, unreformed, violent criminals is wrong. As governor, I’ll be both compassionate and protecting of Virginia families. I’m Ed Gillespie, candidate for governor, and I sponsored this ad.

The tonal shift is accompanied by an even more jarring visual one, as the ad cuts away from dark juxtapositions of Northam and an alleged child-pornography collector to a smiling, well-lit Gillespie at home. This is not a traditional closing pitch for tough-on-crime ads, to say the least, with Gillespie modifying the tried-and-true formula and conveying actual nuance in his policy prescription.


The Federal Prosecutors Backing Jeff Sessions on Mandatory Minimums

First, he endorses the general aim of McAuliffe’s policy, even if he says he wouldn’t apply it as universally as the current governor does. Second, he emphasizes that his interest in the issue goes beyond punishing criminals. Gillespie isn’t promising to drop the hammer; he wants to be “compassionate and protecting of Virginia families.”

It’s a cliché that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. But Gillespie appears to be campaigning in Trumpism while aiming to govern in criminal-justice reform. His website has a lengthy page devoted to the subject with testimonials to his “thoughtful and detailed approach” from state lawmakers and law-enforcement officials. Some positions are relatively modest, like reduced enforcement for marijuana laws and a toe-dip into legalizing medical marijuana. Others are more arcane but more substantive, like raising the felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500 and reducing driver’s-license suspensions. With some notable exceptions, many of his criminal-justice proposals match those on Northam’s website.

If he wins and enacts this agenda, Gillespie could be a signal to congressional Republicans north of the Potomac, where reform is slowly returning to the federal agenda after its election-year pause. Conservative proponents say they’re optimistic that Congress will take up the matter next year after dispatching with tax reform (though that’s easier said than done). A bipartisan group of legislators even proposed a new bill last month that aims to reduce mandatory sentences for drug crimes and reform harsher aspects of the current system.

At the same time, would-be reformers could wrestle with the potential opposition of President Trump, who rose to power by anointing himself as a “law and order” candidate, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a criminal-justice hardliner who helped torpedo the reform bill last year. A Gillespie victory could prove that Trump’s presidency isn’t necessarily fatal to modest efforts to rein in mass incarceration. Indeed, the candidate appears to be betting it’ll take a little Trumpism to get there.

This article is part of our project “The Presence of Justice,” which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

Former US President George W. Bush takes aim at tone of political discourse, denounces ‘bullying and prejudice’

October 20, 2017

Since leaving office in 2009, he has kept a relatively low profile. But on Thursday, the former president took to the stage to heavily criticize the current trajectory of US politics.

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Former US President George W. Bush on Thursday condemned bigotry and isolationism in a rare speech that many have interpreted as an implicit rebuke of the politics and policies of President Donald Trump.

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them,” Bush said at the George W. Bush Institute in New York City.

US President Donald Trump

President Trump has been a divisive figure in US politics

Without naming names

Bush, who was president between 2001 and 2009, did not mention Trump by name. But Bush’s comments appeared to be aimed at the current president who faces frequent criticismfor his perceived denigration of minority groups and coarse presidential style.

“Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” Bush said. “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”

The 71-year-old Bush had refused to endorse Trump after he beat Bush’s brother, Jeb, to be elected the Republish party’s candidate during the 2016 presidential election.

The former president also implicitly criticized Trump’s aversion to traditional US policies on free trade and global leadership.

“We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism,” he said, adding that globalization could not be wished away “any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution.”

Former US presidents tend to shy away from criticizing their successors directly.

Russia turning Americans against each other

Bush also used the speech to denounce Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, an accusation Trump had brushed off as a “hoax.”

“According to our intelligence services, the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systematic and stealthy,” Bush said.

Despite the clear undertones targeting Trump, Bush spokesman Freddy Ford did not say it was intended to target the current president.

“The themes President Bush spoke about today are really the same themes he has spoken about for the last two decades,” he said.

Obama denounces ‘politics of division’

Former President Barack Obama also criticized politics under Trump’s presidency at a campaign rally in the US state of New Jersey on Thursday.

Ehemaliger US-Präsident Barack Obama bei Wahlkampfauftritt in New Jersey (Reuters/M. Makela)Barack Obama, former US President, speaking at a rally in New Jersey

“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries,” Obama said at an event for Phil Murphy, the Democratic Party’s candidate for the upcoming election for the state’s governor.

The speech also marked a departure for Obama, who was president between 2009 and 2017, after months of remaining relatively silent on political debates in the US.

“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back,” Obama said. “It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

amp/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)


Barack Obama, George W. Bush denounce bigotry in Trump-era American politics

October 20, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Former President Barack Obama called on fellow Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear” while rallying on Thursday with party’s candidates for governors in Virginia and New Jersey.

“Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are,” Obama said at the Virginia rally in front of several thousand supporters.

Stepping back into the political spotlight for the first time since leaving the White House in January, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump in his speeches at Richmond’s convention center or at a Newark hotel. But he did tell crowds at both events that they could send a message to the rest of the country in the upcoming elections.

“Our democracy’s at stake and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” Obama said.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (R) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states electing new governors this year and those Nov. 7 races will be considered a bellwether of Democrats’ strength in the face of Trump’s victory last year.

New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy, Obama’s former ambassador to Germany, is facing Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie.

Former President Barack Obama on Thursday rallied at the side of his former ambassador to Germany, who is running for governor in New Jersey, and called on the crowd of Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear.” (October 19)

Obama’s remarks came on the same day Former President George W. Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era American politics, warning that the rise of “nativism,” isolationism and conspiracy theories have clouded the nation’s true identity.

George W. Bush

Obama bemoaned the rise of racial politics.

“Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed,” Obama said. “That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

The first black president offered himself as proof that the country could move forward, telling the crowd in Richmond, the former Capitol of the Confederacy, that he is a distant relative to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his mother’s side.

“Think about that,” Obama said. “I’ll bet he’s spinning in his grave.”

Obama praised Northam, a pediatric neurologist, as a candidate who would represent Virginia well and accused Gillespie of running a fear-based campaign.

Gillespie spokesman Dave Abrams said Obama’s comments were not a “surprise.”

Guadagno’s spokesman, Ricky Diaz, suggested it’s Murphy and not Republicans who are divisive.

“Phil Murphy is the one who will divide New Jersey by raising taxes so high that only the über rich like him will be able to afford to live here,” he said.

Obama’s popularity is still undeniable. In an August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of Americans said they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 35 percent had a negative opinion. In the same poll, 36 percent said they had a positive opinion of Trump and 52 percent had a negative opinion.

Obama never completely disappeared from public life, in part because of Trump’s constant criticism and efforts to undo much of Obama’s legacy after eight years in office. He has publicly defended his policies that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have set out to dismantle: the Affordable Care Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to be temporarily shielded from deportation.

Obama was forced to return “pretty quickly,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton University said.

“The current president has changed all the conventional assumptions about what to do,” Zelizer said. “There is a sense of urgency that makes this moment different than others and former President Obama has continued to be directly in Trump’s line of fire — both his policies and his legacy.”

Les Kenney, of Richmond, said Obama’s speech was inspiring.

“It was great to see him again, he’s an energizer,” he said.


Associated Press writers Jesse J. Holland and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

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See also: George W. Bush joins John McCain in dressing down Donald Trump


Obama back on campaign trail to rally for Ralph Northam in Richmond

See also:

Without Saying ‘Trump,’ Bush and Obama Deliver Implicit Rebukes