As Rust Belt states moved inexorably into Donald Trump’s column on election night — Ohio, early and easily; Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, slowly but surely — Washington residents looked on from afar, assessing the scene through different lenses.
Among the multitude of Washington anti-Trumpers, there was shock and anger that salt-of-the-earth Americans would fall for a reckless demagogue and deliver him the presidency. Among his fans in the Northwest, there was respect and relief that Midwest swing states had swung against a retread establishment Democrat. Among the few who managed to watch with clinical detachment, there was fascination and astonishment.
What nobody in Washington could do is relate to this unfolding insurgency three time zones away. It was the ultimate November surprise, but it didn’t spread west.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan credited Trump for keeping Congress in Republican hands by galvanizing a widespread movement. But the Evergreen state proved to be bluer than ever on Election Day; you’d be hard pressed to find GOP candidates here riding into office on Trump’s coattails.
Washington was oh-so predictable. Dare we say boring?
It appears the Legislature will be just as narrowly divided between Democrats and Republican in 2017 as it was in 2016.
Democrats decisively won every statewide office with the exception of treasurer, which featured two Republicans in the general election, and secretary of state, whose tradition of moderate GOP office holders has endured more than 50 years. (Washington wants Republicans to manage its money and elections, but not much else.)
Sen. Patty Murray trounced her Republican challenger with 60 percent of the vote, compared with a more modest 52 percent in her 2010 re-election. And Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee coasted with 56 percent support in Tuesday’s contest, after squeaking by with less than 52 percent when he won his first term in 2012.
The absence of a Trump-quake in Washington is partly attributable to weak GOP candidates in 2016, and the state Republican Party must answer for that. But much of it owes to a Democratic foundation that seems unshakeable. Inslee alluded to it in his victory speech:
“Washington was, is and will always be a beacon for progressive values across the United States of America,” the governor said.
Of course, that doesn’t insulate us from an electoral verdict rendered Tuesday by more than 59 million disaffected Americans, including around 800,000 counted so far in Washington.
If Trump acts upon his harsh rhetoric against international trade agreements, it could harm the nation’s most trade-dependent state.
If he pursues an adventurist foreign policy in places such as Syria and China, it could disrupt the lives of thousands of JBLM service members and families.
If he blows up the Affordable Care Act, countless people could be left without health coverage, causing local emergency rooms to be overwhelmed.
If he follows through on calls for a Mexican wall and mass deportations, it will threaten Washington’s minority and refugee communities, a source of rich culture and reliable labor.
And that’s just for starters.
Washington and 49 other states are counting on a better Donald Trump to show up for this job. They want to see the president-elect who spoke in positive, measured tones during his victory speech early Wednesday morning — not the candidate whose 16-month campaign often felt like a tasteless amateur night at an improv club.
More than 2,000 miles stretch between Washington state and the White House; Trump Tower is even farther away. But the decisions the 45th U.S. president makes in those places will have a profound impact here for the next four years at least.