A conversation with Rep. Tom Garrett: “Democrats have rightly determined that separating us turns out voters.”

Republicans unfazed by Democrats’ landslide victories in the Tuesday elections are taking away entirely the wrong lesson, says one reflective Virginia Republican lawmaker.

“Look at the numbers in Virginia,” says Rep. Tom Garrett, who is among the House’s archconservatives in the Freedom Caucus and whose district covers Charlottesville and the surrounding area.

“You have a candidate running for governor, who got more votes than the guy in the governor’s mansion, who got beat soundly — so that’s something going on,” Garrett told me of Republican Ed Gillespie’s near 9-point loss to Democrat Ralph Northam. He says those numbers signal an “energy” in the Democratic base that should not be ignored.

Leading up to Election Day, far-right figures in the Republican Party, like former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, said Gillespie’s campaign — which adopted many of the “law and order” and race-baiting culture war narratives President Donald Trump has been pushing — would be proof that Trumpism can exist without Trump.

Garrett sits at an interesting cross section of this debate.

In a year when neo-Nazis and white nationalists descended on his district and the president has waged a war on African-American NFL players taking a stand against police brutality, Gillespie’s tactics were largely seen as a test of both Trump’s base and the Democratic resistance. The resistance won this round.

Garrett calls this moment the Democrats’ “Tea Party movement,” and says that “when you invoke fear to drive behavior, you will reap the whirlwind of what you sow.” But he isn’t talking about Republicans, Gillespie, or Trump’s messaging in the latter. He’s talking about Democrats.

“The tragedy is that Democrats have rightly determined that separating us turns out voters,” Garrett said. “That fear is a great motivator.”

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