There’s a point where a president becomes so unpopular that the members of his own party begin to question how closely they want to be associated with him. Then there’s the point where they want no association at all, which is where Donald Trump is now. In the latest sign that Trump has become toxically unpopular to the point of being radioactive, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie is now tacitly rejecting Trump’s attempted endorsement.
Trump keeps tweeting support for Ed Gillespie, who is running for Governor of Virginia. With just three weeks remaining until election day, Gillespie is down by somewhere between five and fifteen points, depending on which of a handful of polling outlets you want to use as a guidepost. He needs all the help he can get. Yet Gillespie has gone out of his way to ignore Trump’s endorsement. In other words, even though Gillespie is likely to lose, he fears that embracing Trump (or even speaking his name) would only further weaken his chances of winning.
If things get even worse for Gillespie as election day nears, it’s possible he might reverse course and try embracing Trump as a last ditch move. But for now Gillespie is standing his ground, declining to campaign with Trump, pretending the endorsement never happened, and acting like Trump doesn’t exist. This suggests that Gillespie has calculated he would lose more voters by embracing Trump than he would gain. It’s a harbinger for what’s to come.
The 2018 midterm elections are still down the road, and a lot can happen in the meantime. But if Donald Trump is still this unpopular (or even more unpopular) next year, Republican candidates in all but the reddest of states and districts will feel compelled to treat Trump as if he doesn’t exist, in an effort at insulating themselves from the growing anti-Trump backlash among the American mainstream. That is, of course, if Trump is even still in office by that time.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report