Donald Trump has deprived us of so much: newscasts the children can watch, Vladimir Putin as our enemy, Angela Merkel as our ally, forgoing Latin phrases like quid pro quo in everyday conversation.
And now he’s taken away the truism that “All politics is local.” Trump made the Kentucky governor’s race all about him, traveling to the state Monday night to throw his full weight—for an hour and 20 minutes—behind incumbent Governor Matt Bevin. Could Trump have thumped his chest harder? If Bevin were to lose to Democrat Andy Beshear, Trump predicted it would be reported as if “I suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me.”
Oh but they did. Rather than drag Bevin across the finish line, Trump showed just how weak he’s become. He stoked turnout—against himself. Voters came out in droves in an off-year, which never happens. In Bevin’s first race in 2015, 973,000 voters turned out; this year 1.5 million did. In Bath County, which Trump won with 67 percent, Beshear beat Bevin with 52 percent. Almost everywhere, even in coal country, Bevin performed worse than Trump, raising two crucial questions:
First, is that how Trump will perform in 2020, with a 30-point advantage going poof, up in smoke, like the mines that will be closed by a Democratic governor? Second, what are Senators Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Thom Tillis thinking over their coffee Wednesday morning when they read about Andy Beshear declaring victory while the AP still has a race that shouldn’t have been close to begin with as “too close to call”?
Even Mitch McConnell might need an extra lump of sugar. Already at an 18 percent approval rating, and with his likely challenger former fighter pilot Amy McGrath outraising him last quarter, the majority leader made his bed with Trump and it will be hard to throw off the covers off now. McConnell has made himself an accessory after the fact to what’s now been confirmed by Trump appointees testifying under oath: The president withheld military aid to Ukraine, thereby weakening them against Vladimir Putin’s well-armed troops. He withheld the money and a meeting with the president of Ukraine as he demanded the country interfere in our election by investigating a political rival. Unless McConnell’s lost his mind, he knows that’s wrong. I’ll take bets that McConnell will not stand with Trump as he did at the Rupp Arena in Lexington in 2020.
At the same time Kentucky went blue, Virginia completed its transformation to the same color as Democrats won control of both legislative houses in a state where they already held the governor and lieutenant governor’s seats, the state attorney general and both U.S. Senate seats. You can hardly get bluer. Only Mississippi was too much to ask for. In a state Trump won by 18 points, Tate Reeves beat Jim Hood by only about 5 points as the last votes were tallied early Wednesday morning.
After Trump nationalized the race in Kentucky, Republicans will try to retroactively re-localize it by piling on Bevin as a particularly bad candidate no one could help, not even the maestro—Donald Trump Jr. shrugging Tuesday night that “this has nothing to do with Trump” and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale saying “The President just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end.”
To hear it now, Trump wasn't engaging in locker room banter when he called Bevin “a pain in the ass,” but asking “isn’t that what you want?”—a complement to his own original persona. In fact, Bevin, the apparent loser, is a Trump acolyte, refusing to apologize for suggesting teachers who took a sickout day had fomented sexual molestation against children left home alone from school. Like Trump, Bevin hated on immigrants, Obamacare, gay marriage, sanctuary cities, abortion facilities (which he’s closed), and taxes (he prefers consumption to income) and spending on fripperies like health care and pensions. Yes, Bevin removed 30,000 Kentuckians from Medicaid but Trump’s overseen throwing 1.3 million folks off in his quest to scrub the last piece of evidence that Obama sat where he does.
Maybe Bevin lacked the con-man’s ease with lying but he was otherwise a mini-me whose race Trump didn’t just nationalize but personalized..
Trump welcomed impeachment without asking Republicans in Congress how they would feel about it. They’re not feeling happy right now. It’s one thing to see the president booed at the World Series, another to see him booed at a UFC fight—a safe space if ever there was one. And all that was before losing an election in Trump country.
Ahead of that loss, you could hear the sound of silence coming from Capitol Hill as early reports of high turnout in Democratic counties in Kentucky came in and the depositions of career civil servants were made public and confirmed Trump’s rogue operation in Ukraine. And then came Bevin’s stinging defeat.
If Republicans triumphed, Trump harrumphed that the media would cover it as a "ho-hum" event. That’s because it would have been a dog-bites-man story. Like McConnell smiling, the GOP losing Kentucky was news of the highest order.
Will the longest-serving majority leader in history treat Trump’s loss like Mick Mulvaney, who licks the boss’ boots no matter how dirty, or Gordon Sondland, the toady who bought his ambassadorship only to suddenly separate from Trump when he recalled that the president had asked for a quid pro quo, after all, and amended his testimony to avoid perjury charges. McConnell could follow Sondland by taking down his ad in which he promises is own quid pro quo—“the way that impeachment stops with a Senate majority with me as Majority Leader”—if you send a donation to his re-election campaign.
On Monday, the majority leader said that if an impeachment vote were held today, it would not end in removal. But today is so—totally—over. If McConnell sees the office he’s held since 1984 in jeopardy, he’ll abandon Trump in a Kentucky minute. It’s won’t be on principle, but as a matter of survival. It will only work if McConnell can gauge when tomorrow is before more todays like Tuesday consume him.