The November 7 elections, in which Democrats took governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and most of the other closely contested offices, have been analyzed and debated in the way off-year races always are. The winners interpret their wins as a sign of imminent triumph; the losers make excuses.
What the overall outcome makes clear, however, is that Republicans up for election in 2018 face a dilemma. If they don’t embrace Donald Trump and his brand of political disruption, they will dampen the enthusiasm of the Trump-friendly GOP base. If they embrace Trump’s brand, they will alienate the nearly 6-in-10 Americans who disapprove of Trump’s presidency. His base loves him and distrusts anyone who doesn’t share its passion for the man and his works. But in poll after poll, a majority of Americans take the opposite view.
GOP primaries begin in just a few months. Republicans who keep their distance from Trump will invite challenges. But those who win by embracing Trump will have made themselves less attractive general-election candidates. There will be exceptions based on the makeup of districts and states, and, of course, a year is a long time in politics. Still, it’s hard to see how the Republicans’ dilemma will become any less perilous between now and Election Day 2018.