USC students and staff members gathered in Wallis Annenberg Hall to view and analyze the results of the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races on Tuesday evening. The race took place one year after the 2016 presidential election and could foreshadow political trends going into the 2018 midterm elections.
The Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy hosted the viewing and invited notable guest speakers for a panel discussion.
Along with Robert Shrum, director of the Unruh Institute; Eileen McMenamin, former communications director for Sen. John McCain; and Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary during the Obama administration, were present to discuss the election results and the possible ways they could affect the United States’ political climate.
“This is a critical election because it’s the first referendum that we’ve seen on the Republican Party since Donald Trump became president,” Shrum said. “It’s clear that he’s hurting the Republican candidates up and down the ballot. This election is a harbinger of what’s going to happen in the midterm this next year, unless Donald Trump changes his course.”
McMenamin began by explaining how the party that’s out of the White House usually wins the gubernatorial races. Democratic candidate Ralph Northam’s victory, based on the numbers and statistics coming out of Virginia, was expected, McMenamin said.
“You can be a Republican who can critique your own party and not suffer,” McMenamin said. “I think that example could give some hope to Republicans who have been flashing themselves to the president and they’ll feel a bit more comfortable standing up for what they really believe in without being afraid that they’re going to face some sort of consequences.”
Based on the results, McMenamin and Burton both spoke on the lessons that each party should take from this evening, as they look forward to future elections.
“If Democrats watch closely to what Ralph Northam did to win, it wasn’t just engaging with this unpopular president,” Burton said.
Burton believes voters care about the issues that will affect their future, more than opposing Trump.
According to Burton, this politicial era is unlike any other, because Republican politicans share a wide array of opinions on different issues.
“As for Republicans, I think that this is a really exciting time to a be a Republican in California because the party is so adrift,” Burton said. “There are very little candidates here and the message has been tied up in a base that does really like Donald Trump in some ways.”
Burton noted there is currently more of a populist versus establishment view on politics, but the appeal to voters is still on “getting things done.”
At the end of the discussion, Burton and McMenamin shared their thoughts on how the candidates’ different views on immigration policies and taxes were major determinants of how the election would end.
“It’s important for you college students to be politically aware because it’s your lives and your futures that are on the line,” Shrum said. “You can be a Republican or a Democrat, but you have to answer those questions and you need to be engaged and involved because it’s your life that’s on the line.”