It’s not a blue-wave election until a 49-year-old soccer mom, former reporter, and school board member wins the race for county executive in Nassau—which has more people than 12 U.S. states—with 51 percent of the vote. Only two Democrats, neither a woman, have won that office since the 1930s.
In 2017, though, Laura Curran triumphed over Jack Martins, a well-funded former mayor of Mineola running a part Trumpist race that in its final days resembled Ed Gillespie’s nasty, losing Virginia run.
In the campaign’s final days, Martins approved a mailer adding pictures of shirtless, tattooed men to Trump’s declaration that Mexico only sends us its “rapists” and “criminals”—“Meet Your New Neighbors!” the mailer read, calling Curran “MS-13’s choice for county executive.”
That bit of racist fear mongering earned Martins a New York Times editorial: “Willie Horton, Updated for the Trump Era.” The Republican said he stood by the ad. It hurt him in the end.
In a county where Democrats have only a minor edge over Republicans, Curran ran a campaign free of rookie mistakes. With enough Republicans soured on Trump and enough Democrats eager to express their disapproval of him that was just enough.
I followed the race because I’ve known Curran since she babysat for my daughter 35 years ago, loved history, and starred in her school’s play Blithe Spirit. I couldn’t imagine then she would be running for office but I predict there will be more like her in races to come.
As a lowly county legislator from the minority party, without name recognition or a fundraising apparatus, Curran ran as an underdog against a state senator who’d been mayor of a large town for eight years, on a platform of fixing the paralyzed transportation network and not just lowering property taxes, among the highest in the nation, but reforming the unfair assessment system. She proposed ethic reforms that put in place rules that stop dishonesty before it gets started. She harped on the “corruption tax” what we pay when people like Trump get power and tilt everything toward the wealthy and connected.
Cronyism played out in Nassau County to the point where the prior executive, and his wife, are under federal indictment in a bribery and kickback scheme. Martins wasn’t implicated in that but Curran said he was tainted when he said that State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos should keep his leadership post after being arrested in 2015 on federal charges that he pressured businesses into giving no-show jobs to his son.
In defeat, Martins modeled himself after his president. In a fit of pique, he won’t concede. He would have to win 70 percent of the absentee ballots to overturn the result. It won’t happen.
Tuesday’s results don’t mean Trump has lost his core voter. Even as he sinks to historically low favorability after a year of a near no-show presidency, he keeps a solid 30 percent. They continue to struggle in the same ways for the same reasons as before: high unemployment, opioids crushing their spirit, their kids returning home maimed or dead from multiple wars, their health care in jeopardy with little reason to believe tomorrow will be better.
But never mind. For them, Trump’s devolved to a spectator sport. No one is going to do anything for them anyway so why not enjoy the show of the blue-collar billionaire who talks like them, pricks the egos of the puffed-up elites, and sticks it to The Man, whoever that might be.
As long as Trump has that 30 percent, believe me, Washington will not call him out, other than Sens. Jeff Flake, John McCain, and Bob Corker. They aren’t the only Republicans who agree with Corker that the president is in need of adult day care, they’re just the only ones willing to say it because they’re not running again.
The best the rest can muster is the mild suggestion that the president should tweet less, as if that’s going to keep him from vainly boasting about his golf club in a formal speech on a state visit to South Korea or pushing a tax bill which Trump swears won’t benefit him and his pals but would do so, hugely, while massively increasing the deficit and with no trickle down anyone will feel.
Voters like those who turned out on Tuesday will show the way. There aren’t many statesmen of the sort who went to Nixon in 1974 and told him it was over.
In 2018, after a few more Garden State and Old Dominion losses—possibly next in Alabama where twice removed Judge Roy Moore won the special election primary, possibly in Nevada where Trump trashed a sitting senator from his own party for not being sufficiently loyal, and possibly in states not apparent yet—Republican leaders who lack the character to worry about the next generation will have the sense to be worried about the next election.