Democratic wins in Virginia could mean trouble for 2018, say Republicans

PHOTO: Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam speaks after his election night victory in Fairfax, Va., Nov. 7, 2017.PlayAaron P. Bernstein/Reuters
WATCH Voters send message to Trump as Democrats win several key races

Republicans looking ahead to the 2018 midterms are reevaluating their political playbooks after Democrats trounced Republicans up and down the ballot in Virginia Tuesday night, keeping control of the governor’s mansion and unseating at least 12 Republicans in the House of Delegates.

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“There is literally nothing we could have done to win that race. Nothing,” one senior staffer on GOP candidate Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign told ABC News. “Yesterday truly was a referendum on [President Donald Trump].”

Virginians overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over Gillespie in Tuesday night’s election, a move seen as a reaction to the Republicans' infighting on Capitol Hill and the divisive politics of Trump.

Gillespie, a mild-mannered establishment Republican, sidestepped Trump until the end of the campaign when national political flashpoints -- like controversies over Confederate statues, MS-13 gangs and immigration -- burned brightest in the state of Virginia.

Gillespie’s late and reluctant embrace of Trumpism was well received in rural, older populations of the state that supported Trump in the 2016 election; it backfired with women and voters in northern, suburban enclaves.

Virginia’s population has been skewing in favor of Democrats, a reality one Gillespie staffer said played a role in Tuesday’s results. “At the end of the day, in this case, there are just more voting Democrats in Virginia than Republicans,” the staffer told ABC News.

Despite the numbers, those involved with the 2017 gubernatorial race say Trump was the elephant in the voting booth.

“It’s not demographics, it’s not tactics. This is a blue wave that’s going to drown all Republicans,” said a Virginia political strategist involved with the election.

As for the future of Trumpism in 2018, "There is no such thing," the strategist said.

"It’s just Trump. So you can lose like Luther Strange or you can lose like Ed Gillespie,” the strategist said. The Trump-backed Strange lost to former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama Roy Moore in the Republican primary runoff for now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions' U.S. Senate seat.

Trump and the White House blamed Gillespie’s loss partly on his failure to fully get on board with Trump.

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” tweeted Trump on after results rolled in Tuesday night.

A person familiar with Trump’s political operation said that “inaction in Washington is to blame” for wins by Democrats. “These voters are frustrated by the lack of action from Congress,” the person said.

Many Republicans on Capitol Hill agreed with the assessment.

“On tax cuts, we better perform. That’s what it’s all about,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a conservative Trump supporter, told ABC News. “If you have policy through, the politics go away. If you’re performing, the rest of it is noise.”

Asked if he is now concerned about his own re-election campaign after last night’s results, Brat said he’d win easily if Republicans pass tax reform and the economy continues to grow.

“If we’re performing and he jacks up economic growth … I’m in by 20,” he predicted.

In a radio interview Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the election results “[spell] the urgency of the need” for Republicans to pass their tax plan through Congress.

“If you want to take any lesson out of this, it’s that we must tax reform and tax cuts because we said we would,” he said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and a close Trump ally, said his constituents are “very supportive” of the Trump agenda but “extremely frustrated at levels that I’ve never seen with the inability of Congress to put things on the president’s desk.”

“If we don’t fix that, there is going to be a day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future that will not be pleasant,” he said.

ABC News' Tara Palmeri contributed to this report.