Littwin: The lesson from Virginia in 2017 is that 2018 in Colorado will be all about Trump

That sound you heard Tuesday night was Colorado Republicans quaking in their boots, or whatever footwear is in favor this season.

Because now it’s official: Donald Trump is coming to Colorado in 2018, whether Republicans want him here or not.

Before Tuesday, the question was whether the anti-Trump sentiment reflected in all the polls would finally show up at the voting booth. Now we know. For Colorado Republicans, the big, anti-Trump, Democratic blowout in races around the country was scary enough. But it was the blowout in Virginia, the swing state where the political landscape most closely resembles Colorado’s, that has set off alarms.

Like Colorado, Virginia is a purplish state that has been trending blue. It’s a state with a distinct urban-rural divide in which the suburban counties have moved left and rural counties moved right. It’s a state that, like Colorado, resisted the Trump allure and went for Clinton by five points in 2016.

And now Virginia has again rejected Trump, or Trumpism anyway, by nine points in electing Ralph Northam as governor. And while one election is just one election and 2018 is still a year away, this is more than some distant drumbeat. Northam won the race with the most votes any Virginia governor has ever received. The “resistance” — as the Trump resisters like to call it — was out in force in an off-year election. This was a pounding so loud that no one in Colorado, or anywhere across the country for that matter, could miss it. After all, this is the stuff wave elections are made on.

Imagine you’re Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who must have missed the course explaining that in politics timing is everything. She joined the unaccountably crowded Republican field in the governor’s race on the very day that the Virginia’s gubernatorial runaway vote basically said, “What the hell could you be thinking?”

Related: Colorado Republican AG Cynthia Coffman jumps in the governor’s race. Here’s what that means.

It’s a fair question. If there’s anything that pundits and politicians agreed on heading into Tuesday, it was that this election was a referendum on TrumpWorld. It had been a year since Donald Trump shocked everyone by being elected. A year later, the shocks keep coming, and the question is how, or whether, they might ever end.

The message was clear enough, so clear, in fact, that Trump took time out from his Asian tour to send out a tweet tossing Virginia’s Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, squarely under any available bus. Gillespie had tried to run a race that was being called Trumpism without Trump. Let’s just say it didn’t work.

Gillespie is an establishment Republican who, out of desperation, fully embraced the ugliness of the Trumpian culture wars. He came out strongly against so-called sanctuary cities, which might have made more sense if Virginia had any sanctuary cities. (It doesn’t). He told people that MS-13 gangs were roaming the streets, and Trump pitched in by saying that the Democrat, Ralph Northam, was pro-MS-13 gangs.

For a while, as the polls showed the race closing, it looked as if the strategy might work. If it did, it meant not only that 2018 would be just as ugly as 2016— which is probably the way to bet anyway — but that the polls showing Trump’s disastrous approval ratings were meaningless and that Democrats still had no idea how to defeat Trump or Trumpism.

So, yeah, Gillespie, understanding that Trump was unpopular in Virginia but that he needed Trump’s base, tried to have it both ways, which may remind you of a certain Colorado politician —  say, the U.S. senator who heads the Republican committee in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate in 2018. You think Cory Gardner is worried about his 2018 Trump tweet?

I’m guessing every Republican in Colorado is worried about 2018, but especially those non-Tancredistas running for governor.

As a rule, Democrats win governor’s races in Colorado. I’m not sure why, but Bill Owens is the only Republican who has won since the ‘70s. But in this Republican race, establishment candidate Walker Stapleton is supposed to be the favorite. You’ve seen him already go right on sanctuary cities. Coffman will run as the moderate Republican who will say she can win in November. But if she cuts into the mainstream Republican primary vote, as she certainly will if she’s on the ballot, that leaves the state GOP looking at Tom Tancredo running as the Trump/Bannon candidate. I’m sure he’s already saying the reason Gillespie lost in Virginia was that he wasn’t sufficiently Trump-like. That’s certainly how Trump saw it. He tweeted that Gillspie “didn’t embrace me or what I stand for.”

Tancredo doesn’t just embrace Trump. You can give him at least partial credit for helping to invent him.

But if you look closely at Virginia, the governor’s race told only a small part of the story. Democrats swept the statewide races. And them came the really bad news for Republicans. In the state House of Delegates, Republicans held an overwhelming 66-34 lead. That lead is now gone, every bit of it. Democrats beat 13 Republican incumbents and won three open seats. Control of the House now rests with the results of a few recounts. And it gets worse for Republicans still. A transgender Democrat, Danica Roem, beat a 13-term Republican who had described himself as the state’s “chief homophobe.”

This was an up-and-down-the-ballot rejection of Virginia Republicans, which can only be interpreted as an up-and-down-the-ballot rejection of Donald Trump. And that can only be seen as trouble for Colorado Republicans in 2018.

Public domain photo from Colorado Senate GOP via Flickr Creative Commons. Senator Larry Crowder (R – District 35) joins Reps. Lawrence and McCann, Gov. Hickenlooper, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and their guests for the signing of House Bill 1129 — Charitable Fraud Enhanced Enforcement Measures — on June 8, 2016.


  1. ALL republicans in Colorado should fear for their political lives…we know the republican agenda only favors the rich, wealthy and those who can afford to purchase a republican politician…the truth of the gop is starting to become apparent, and it smells bad…

  2. And the anti-Trump attitudes in Virginia came BEFORE any of the agenda items were impacting people. Now that the actual costs of Republican sabotage of Insurance Exchanges is becoming clear, I expect a few more anti-Republicans. If the House and Senate can get their legislative priorities straight and pass a tax “reform” that gives away hugely to the rich, gives little to the middle and less to the poor, and results in substantial INCREASES in burdens for many, there will be more anti-Trump/anti-Republican feelings. And if you take a look at the comments on Gardner’s and M.Coffman’s Facebook pages, you can see anger from the right, that things aren’t happening faster and conforming more to what Fox News says is Trump’s agenda.

    Anger and resentment from the left will drive participation. Disappointment that Republicans are not MORE radically aligned with Trump will cut participation. At least, that’s what it looked like in Virginia.

  3. Not just in Colorado. The republicans traded their morals for a questionable election victory and now they’ve got to wear that albatross around their necks much like they did after Bush. What in the world did Republicans think was going to happen after nearly 3 million more people voted for the other person? Hello…just like science, reality is true whether you believe in it or not.

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