Opinion: Without Trump, GOP can still win

If Tuesday’s election results showed one thing, it was that Republicans can still command a powerful election coalition in Blue states when Donald Trump is not on the ballot.

In both Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans combined strong off-year turnout among voters in more rural areas with better results in the suburbs, reversing their 2020 losses when Trump’s more divisive brand of politics dragged down the GOP in states such as Georgia.

In Virginia, businessman Glenn Youngkin did his best to soft-pedal his support from Trump, as Democrats tried unsuccessfully to goad the former President into campaigning in the Old Dominion.

Even with the former President on the sidelines, Youngkin did just as well as Trump in rural areas of Virginia — often getting over 80 percent of the vote in smaller counties. The big difference was in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Virginia Beach, where Youngkin reversed the big GOP losses with Trump in 2020.

In New Jersey this week, the formula was the same. The GOP candidate for Governor, Jack Ciattarelli, did well in rural areas, but clearly attracted more support than Trump in the suburbs from Philadelphia to New York.

For some, it was a welcome option on Election Day.

“Trump’s not my GOP guy,” one swing voter in New Jersey explained to me.

Congressional Republicans drew a much sharper conclusion from the off-year elections, casting the results as a direct rebuke of the agenda put forward in Congress by President Biden and Democrats.

“Americans want limited government and maximum freedom,” said U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro. “It’s that simple.”

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, boiled it down to five words.

“Don’t mess with people’s kids,” Greene said.

Republicans felt education was their key issue in Virginia, as they assailed Coronavirus mask rules, and accused Democrats of trying to teach ‘radical ideologies’ by limiting the input of parents.

“You’re going to have the Pledge of Allegiance to the progressive flag and not the American flag,” said U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who warned a Democratic reconciliation bill would mean “Drag Queen Story Hour” in your local schools.

Whether that education argument works or not, the GOP is certainly favored to take back Congress in 2022.

“(Tuesday’s) swing from 2020 works out to like a 50 seat Republican gain in the House,” said GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini, who argued the results in Virginia ‘showed that rural America will show up big for someone not named Donald Trump.’

But what if Trump gets substantially more involved in Georgia for 2022? Could his presence again hold down the GOP vote in the suburbs of Atlanta like in 2020? We’ll find out the answer on Nov. 8, 2022.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com