Last night at the Washington state GOP party in Bellevue, Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison was triumphant.
Throughout the election, she had been pilloried by the press, and some members of her own party, for standing by the GOP’s presidential nominee throughout a campaign marked by racist and xenophobic sentiment and especially as his blatant disregard for women became all the more clear. When footage leaked of Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitalia, and Hutchison equivocated, the Seattle Times called for her head. At the time, her mission seemed futile: Trump’s boorish behavior aside, she was defending the man whom polls predicted would meet an early end on Election Day, proving Trumpism to be a fleeting spasm of ugliness in the party; she was one of the few statewide Republican figures to stick with Trump, suggesting that a loss would put her on the wrong side of history.
Au contraire. Standing on stage at the Hyatt Regency with a Trump victory all but assured, she couldn’t help but deliver a jab to the doubters, saving a specific one for Megyn Kelly, who took a notable amount of air time on Fox News (playing larger-than-life on two massive screens) to discuss the ways in which Trump’s victory may be seen by communities who have felt targeted by his rhetoric: “Even some of the pundits on Fox News are having trouble admitting what’s happening!” Hutchison told an exuberant crowd. Of course, Kelly has a history with Trump, who early in the primary season implied that her stiff questioning of him during a debate was related to her menstrual cycle. Hutchison is a former television reporter herself; doesn’t she have some compassion for Kelly’s sparring with Trump? “I don’t know. … I wouldn’t say compassion. I understand what it’s like to want to be a hard-hitting journalist. But no one should forget, Donald Trump wrote Art of the Deal. You set your starting position then negotiate from there.”
And so we start from here. Trumpism is not fleeting; it now owns the Republican Party. Last night it was hard to imagine their was any rift within the party at all, despite the many anti-Trump pronouncements of Republicans themselves throughout the election cycle. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant in August stated he would not support Trump. Taking the stage down by double digits to Jay Inlsee, he smiled broadly and declared it “a great night for Republicans across the nation.” He wasn’t talking about his own race.
Meanwhile, the standard bearer of the local Never Trump crowd, U.S. Senate candidate Chris Vance, was nowhere to be found at his party’s soiree. When Fox News announced Sen. Patty Murray victorious over Vance, there was a smattering of boos, but just a smattering. His Never Trump stance hadn’t really lit a fire under the party partisans. Vance released a statement, conceding the race but also vowing to press on with his brand of Republicanism: “Obviously, the results of this election are going to spur major debate over the future of the Republican Party in our state. I look forward to being part of that.” Vance argued that, for whatever victories Trumpism gained nationwide, it doesn’t work locally. “To win Washington State, Republicans must refocus their efforts on appealing to suburban Puget Sound voters.”
But it would be just as easy to see last night’s results as a blow for moderate Republicans. For all they did to distance themselves from Trump, it was Trump who won his election and Vance, Bryant, and nearly every other statewide Republican candidate for office who lost. And Vance seems now alone in his dissent.
“Trump was No. 18 on my list. I’m not a personal fan,” said Kirby Wilbur, who like Vance and Hutchison has been chair of the state Republican Party. By No. 18 he was referring to his preference in the primary. “But he got elected. You can’t argue about that.”
If they allowed it to, there were things to dampen the mood of Republicans in Bellevue Tuesday night. Not only were most statewide candidates losing (the lone exception being Secretary of State Kim Wyman), but ST3 was passing, as was the higher state minimum wage. Tim Eyman called the ST3 figures a “gut punch,” Kemper Freeman suggested the ST3 votes had been bought with huge donations to the Yes campaign, and the higher minimum wage just went unmentioned. But the night, and the party, was clearly Trump’s.
This is important, since it will clearly be Republicans themselves who will check any overreach by a president Trump, considering that they maintained control of the House and the Senate. While a Trump victory itself was nearly unimaginable, what was imaginable within that unlikely result was that Trump would face stiff resistance to his policies from his own party. Such progressive hopes seem to be on the wain. In a bad sign for the Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare—Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, a fierce Trump critic, signaled his eagerness to work with Trump to dismantle the health care law. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, the only Western Washington congressman in the majority, left himself more wiggle room during his brief comments to the audience last night; he discussed veterans and voting, but said little about “extreme vetting” of Muslims and building a wall along the Mexican border. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Spokane Republican who serves as the highest ranking woman in the house, said in a statement that “this is our moment as Republicans, and I look forward to shaking up business as usual in Washington, D.C., together.”
Of course, the devil is in the details. Washington Republicans are generally hawkish on trade; Trump is not. There could well be major policy divides that form as the rubber of Trump’s policy hits the road. But then again, maybe not.