Nobody is sugarcoating what happened in Virginia.
It was a very bad day for the Democrats. So bad, in fact, that liberal pundits are saying the party has to rethink its politics and its message, with the outlook for the midterms undeniably bleak.
As a longtime member of the all-politics-is-local school, the Virginia race was nationalized early on. The fact that Washington Democrats have spent months squabbling over how many trillions to throw at social problems and haven’t delivered a thing–even the easy infrastructure win–helped boost Youngkin to victory and turned New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s expected reelection into a nail-biter. (AP eventually called it for Murphy.) President Biden’s underwater approval ratings were a drag on ex-governor Terry McAuliffe as well.
Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin speaks at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Now I have to add that most national media types don’t really care about how Youngkin will do in Richmond. He was at the forefront of a proxy war based on whether a non-threatening Republican could thread the needle between keeping the Trump base and appealing to party members not enamored of the former president. And Youngkin pulled it off, in part by keeping Donald Trump out of the state. (Trump issued a statement claiming credit anyway).
McAuliffe spent a whole lot of time trying to depict Youngkin (a businessman who put $20 million of his own money into the race) as a Trump acolyte, which meant he didn’t have much of a positive message.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe speaks at an election night party in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Voters are deciding between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
But what much of the media missed–or deliberately mischaracterized–was the role of the so-called culture wars. There was an effort to paint Youngkin as a book-banner because he backed bills (vetoed by McAuliffe) to let parents opt-out of having their kids read sexually explicit books (even though Toni Morrison’s won a Pulitzer Prize). McAuliffe tried this line on “Meet the Press” and Chuck Todd wasn’t having it.
But parental choice is a winning message, especially with McAuliffe on record as saying they shouldn’t make decisions for the schools. When combined with frustration over past school closures giving way to mask mandates, it’s a potent one.
What the woke wing of the Democratic Party fails to understand is that parents who aren’t happy with what their kids are being taught aren’t automatically racists. They have legitimate grievances. It wasn’t just about critical race theory, which isn’t taught in Virginia schools. Some left-leaning anchors and hosts are still complaining about a racist dog whistle weaponized by right-wing media, but many journalists are recognizing they misjudged the issue.
Even CNN’s Van Jones, a former Obama White House official, says the Democrats are coming across as “annoying and offensive and seem out of touch.”
It makes sense to cast this as a personal setback for Biden, who campaigned for McAuliffe, along with Kamala Harris and Barack Obama. But it’s more of a reflection of Biden’s inability to break the suicidal stalemate on the Hill and his audacious overreach on the $3.5-trillion bill, now cut in half.
The voters handed Democrats the keys and the car is stuck in the ditch. They just don’t look like a governing party right now. Biden signed on to most of Bernie’s agenda, and it ain’t selling.
President Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Nov. 2, 2021. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
To be sure, Youngkin was an attractive campaigner in a state that Trump lost by 10 points. He outpaced Trump’s margins in key rural and suburban counties and cut into McAuliffe’s margins in urbanized Northern Virginia.
The Democrats have always struggled in rural areas, but they got clobbered in Virginia, where exit polls say McAuliffe won by 3-1 among whites without a college degree.
Some pundits are even saying it’s good for the GOP that Trump has been banned by Twitter. He told a radio interviewer yesterday, when asked about Fox News calling Virginia half an hour after CNN and MSNBC: “It’s probably because maybe they wanted a Democrat to win.” (It’s probably maybe because Fox didn’t want to be wrong. Didn’t you complain about Fox being first to call Arizona for Biden?)
But maybe Youngkin, who no one had heard a year ago, found the formula to win in the post-Trump era. What’s clear is that Democratic dysfunction is making that easier than the journalistic geniuses had expected.