Last week’s election cycle left liberals, progressives and Democrats with a taste of victory unknown to the left since the election and reelection of Barack Obama. Since dramatic House of Representatives losses in 2010, Democrats lost the senate in 2014 and have seen consistent net losses in gubernatorial races across the country. That’s why the election of Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia, to say nothing of 15 new Democratic seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, is a breath of fresh air for liberals in the age of Trump—a victory that cannot be diminished by the media’s spin.
Emerging from the victory of Governor-elect Ralph Northam was the need for pundits and analysts to explain away the loss of the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie. Their spin: Northam demonstrated that centrism, not liberalism, was what won the Virginia governorship. Fox News political analyst Douglas E. Schoen (a Democrat) wrote, “Northam campaigned on a moderate platform and offered the type of alternative agenda that the Democratic Party must advance in order to succeed in 2018 and beyond.” This stands in direct opposition to a memo released by “Gillespie for Governor” campaign manager Chris Leavitt, who wrote, “Ralph Northam is far to the left of the incumbent Democratic governor, previous Democratic governors and gubernatorial nominees, and, most importantly, the Virginia electorate.” Clearly, Northam was a liberal until it became inconvenient to the narrative that liberals don’t win the support of the electorate. Don’t be fooled by the spin. The left, not the center, won the governorship for Ralph Northam, and his opposition knew it going into Election Day.
The right has also engaged in introspection after this election, arguing that Gillespie lost because he tried to run as a ‘Trump Republican’ rather than a ‘traditional Republican.’ According to Michael Tackett for the New York Times, “(Northam’s) election showed the limits of Trumpism, and now Republicans will have a choice about how clearly to embrace it.” Again, do not be fooled by the spin. ‘Trumpism’ and ‘Republicanism’ are one and the same; if you doubt that, just look to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. When asked if the GOP had to choose between Bush-style Republican policies and Trump, Ryan said, “We already made that choice. We’re with Trump.” If the Virginia election was a referendum on the Trump presidency, it was also a referendum on the current state of the entire Republican Party. If the president’s abysmally low approval ratings are making Republicans fear their fate in the 2018 midterm elections, then that is just the way the pendulum swings.
I would argue that the Republican Party is a far-right party, whereas the Democratic Party is a center-left party. In that political climate, the moderate center is not a true center of American political ideology, but rather one of center-right conservatism. As a consequence of that political climate, any win for the Democratic Party is a win for American progressivism, as it shifts the moderate center where progressives and conservatives may compromise while governing further toward a fair and centralized position.
As shown by liberal Keith Ellison’s acceptance of the Deputy Chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee after his defeat by moderate Tom Perez to head the Committee, there is room for moderate Democrats and leftist Democrats to come together and plan a platform that may convince the American electorate to vote blue next year. Ralph Northam defeated Tom Perriello, who had the endorsements of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, in the primary for the governorship earlier this year. So, while Northam’s ascendance may fairly be viewed as a victory for establishment Democrats, it should remain a beacon of hope for all progressives moving forward, regardless of whatever spin those who wish to divide the left employ in order to distort the narrative and soften the blow of conservative defeat.
Daniel Riley is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]