Although it seems almost impossible to believe, this is the final column we will publish before the awesomely epic election of 2016. Yes, we will pen one more before the last votes are cast and counted, but it will not see the light of day until the polling places have closed, and the new president and Congress of the United States have emerged from the bitter clouds of dust kicked up during this acrimonious election season.
This, of course, has put us in a contemplative state of mind. Not so much about the eventual outcome, which—at least at the top of the ticket—seems clear. No, we’ve been thinking more about what comes after, and whether or not this magnificent republic of ours can somehow find its way back to normalcy. Much of this depends on the actions and reactions of a small minority of politicians and voters—mostly elephants, but also amongst die-hard donkeys, as well.
First, a quick look at the state of play. As election day nears, it is increasingly obvious that Republican standard-bearer Donald J. Trump is courting a catastrophic landslide defeat. Will it be Goldwater ’64, McGovern ’72, Mondale ’84 territory? Perhaps not quite that bad, but definitely close. And this historic drubbing is certain to have a huge down-ballot effect, which is why Republican strategists are currently in such a panic.
The problem is that there’s no real solution to a problem like Trump. In Virginia, which the Trump campaign has essentially abandoned, Republican congress-critters have tried a variety of tactics, none of them particularly effective. Delegate Scott Taylor, who is running to replace the 2nd District’s retiring Representative Scott Rigell, has been a loyal Trump surrogate, and thus lashed himself to an immensely unpopular candidate who, according to recent polls, is trailing Hillary Clinton by 12 points in the commonwealth. Conversely, in the more moderate 10th District, Representative Barbara Comstock has been harshly critical of Trump, and yet is still in real danger of losing her reelection bid due to disaffected Republican voters punishing her for her apostasy.
And here in the 5th District, state Republican Senator Tom Garrett—who has condemned Trump’s behavior but still supports him—has been caught flat-footed by Democrat Jane Dittmar, who has consistently out-fundraised him and was recently endorsed by President Obama.
It’s also here where some of the more malevolent forces at work in this election have unexpectedly erupted. The most prominent incident involved two Trump supporters who parked outside of Dittmar’s Palmyra office for 12 hours, openly brandishing guns and holding up Trump signs. When this threatening maneuver got national press, Dittmar’s Facebook page was so overwhelmed with abusive rhetoric that she had to temporarily shut it down.
Things got so nasty, in fact, that—in the wake of conservative bloggers posting documents purporting to show that Dittmar was convicted of a DUI in 1999 (she was not)—Garrett actually showed up at a Dittmar event on the Downtown Mall to join in her calls for greater civility (see page 12).
Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear that civility is what we’re going to get in the wake of this unprecedented, frequently stomach-churning election. As long as Trump persists with his idiotic claims of a “rigged election,” and continues to encourage an army of poll-watching partisans to show up (armed, if possible) and confront non-white citizens as they arrive to vote, then the aftermath of this presidential pie fight could be even worse than the main event.
And in that case, we all lose.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.