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Trump Source Explains Why GOP Losses Not Referendum on President

Wins by Democrats in key gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey were “unsurprising,” a person familiar with Trump’s political operation told NBC News.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston, South Carolina on Jan. 14, 2016.Chris Keane / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — The White House says it's not sweating after a string of losses by Republican candidates across the U.S.

The Democratic victories in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday were "unsurprising," a person familiar with President Donald Trump's political operation said Wednesday.

The person said that "2018 is a long ways away," when asked about the White House's level of fear ahead of next year's midterm elections.

On Tuesday, Democrat Ralph Northam handily topped Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor race, and in New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy trounced Republican Kim Guadagno in that state's governor’s race.

The person familiar with the president's political operation acknowledged that Washington dysfunction played a role in the GOP losses, noting that there is frustration, particularly among pivotal suburban voters, with the "lack of action in Congress."

"History tells us that midterm elections are competitive for a president's party, and I wouldn’t disagree with that. Not passing tax reform would make it even more competitive," the person said.

Nevertheless, the person argued that Democratic wins should not be seen as a referendum on Trump and offered several reasons why.

Chief among them, the person said, was that Virginia and New Jersey are blue states that went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race and that those results last year "weren’t even close."

In addition, the person pointed to the history of each state, noting that there are 800,000 more Democrats that Republicans in New Jersey and that Virginia has increasingly trended Democratic in recent years.

This person also said that local dynamics contributed to the GOP weakness, pointing specifically to embattled outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"If he’s not the least, he's among the nation's most unpopular governors. I’ve seen approval ratings as low as 14 percent for Governor Christie," the person said.

When asked if Gillespie asked the president to campaign for him, the person familiar with Trump’s political operation said only that Trump "fulfilled all the asks that were made of him," pointing to robo-calls, tweets and the fact that Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with Gillespie.

Trump himself tweeted about Gillespie that he "did not embrace me or what I stand for."

The person also insisted that New Jersey and Virginia in particular weren't critical states for Republicans in 2018 and 2020, and instead, pointed to other swing-states states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the GOP had modest wins on Tuesday night.