For a long while — remember that in politics, two days comprise an eternity — it seemed as if the leaders of the two major parties were girding to fight the last war. Now it seems as if they are fighting to figure out what the last war really was about.

Was the Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, for example, about Donald J. Trump? (Plenty of evidence that it was, or at least about Trump’s base.) Was it, instead, about keeping a safe distance from Trump? (Lots of reasons to think that, too.) Was it about schools and who controls them? (Everybody thought it was at least a little bit about that, and maybe a lot.) Were the results in Virginia and New Jersey, where the Democrat barely squeaked out a victory in a contest he was expected to win with a double-digit margin, harbingers of the future? (That was the early consensus.) Or were they simply local contests over local issues? (Races for the governor’s chair usually are.)

David M. Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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