"Goddamn pundits have nothing else to do and they can't understand that it's a local election," groused Bob Zwick, a longtime honcho in Virginia's Democratic Party after Republican hedge fund manager Glenn Youngkin became the state's governor, beating Clinton insider and former governor Terry McAuliffe.
What Zwick was complaining about was the initial coverage predicting doom for the Biden presidency and Democrats in the 2022 midterms. "The national mood has soured..." wrote one CNN correspondent. "Bad night for Biden" was the headline on a BBC story.
As the hysteria subsided - why does everything in the news sound hysterical now? (right, clickbait) - smarter election analysis surfaced.
McAuliffe ran against Trump and hammered on '90s issues like abortion and guns, while Youngkin ran on issues that are front and center to Americans: education.
Youngkin's team tweeted a photo of this fake sign after McAuliffe fumbled a question on parental involvement in education.
In local communities, whether well-educated Democrats like it or not, Youngkin's pitch for giving parents a say in their kids' education was effective, especially after the pandemic's homeschooling marathon. Of course, this anodyne sentiment was tied to the Taser shot issue of critical race theory. Youngkin played it just right, avoiding outright race baiting while McAuliffe fumbled.
Here's what Andrew Sullivan wrote:
Now check out Youngkin’s messaging on education. 'One of the first things we hammered on — was that the Thomas Jefferson School in Northern Virginia had lowered their academic standards,” Youngkin strategist Jeff Roe told Ryan Lizza. 'It was then literally the first stop.'
Later, at his last rally in Loudoun County, Youngkin put it this way regarding CRT:
We all know education starts with curriculum. We will teach all history, the good and the bad. America has fabulous chapters and it’s the greatest country in the world, but we also have some abhorrent chapters in our history, we must teach them. We can’t know where we are going if we don’t know where we came from.
But let me be clear: what we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through the lens of race, where we divide them into buckets; one group’s an oppressor and another group is the victim; and we pitch them against each other … We know it’s not right. We know in our hearts it’s wrong. We are all created equal and we’re trying so hard to live up to those immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., who implored us to be better than we are; to judge one another based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.
This approach, we are told, is an expression of the darkest strain of racism, a nasty “dog-whistle,” a reboot of the Atwater strategy. Or as the Atlantic’s Jemele Hill explained the results: “This country simply loves white supremacy.” Really? To me, Youngkin’s rhetoric sounds like … well, to be honest, Barack Obama, in its balance. (Maybe Ibram X Kendi is right that “the most threatening racist movement is not the alt-right’s unlikely drive for a White ethno-state, but the regular American’s drive for a ‘race-neutral’ one.”) Youngkin is therefore more politically dangerous than Trump, because he defuses all the reactivity of Trump and exposes the left’s weakness — which is that they have drifted far, far to the left, and lost the middle and the plot. Biden was the Dems’ opportunity to occupy the vacant center, and they blew it. Youngkin is now a model for the GOP’s version of the same.
Sullivan is right about the sunnier side of centrist discomfort with Critical Race Theory. But as usual, he goes too far, unfairly characterizing the Virginia Department of Education's attempt to address inequality.
The state’s Department of Education embraced CRT in 2015, arguing for the need to “re-engineer attitudes and belief systems” in education. In 2019, the department sent out a memo that explicitly endorsed critical race and queer theory as essential tools for teaching high school. Check out the VA DOE’s “Road Map to Equity,” where it argues that “courageous conversation” on “social justice, systemic inequity, disparate student outcomes and racism in our school communities is our responsibility and professional obligation. Now is the time to double down on equity strategies.” (My itals.) Check out the YouTube site for Virginia’s virtual 2020 summit on equity in education, where Governor Northam endorsed “antiracist school communities,” using Kendi’s language.
While reasonable people can disagree on Ibram Kendi's guilt-mongering and poor word choices, Sullivan is cherry-picking his facts. The state's education department was trying to address dramatic disparities in disciplinary actions that have long been seen nationwide. Many of the recommendations were commonsense: involve family and community members in kids' lives, raise expectations, offer personal growth and professional development activities. And, yes, use CRT as a lens through which to understand why some kids are considered "problems." And that includes gay and transgender kids, Andrew.
Let's get real. It was a midterm election and traditionally the ruling party does poorly in those. And McAuliffe blew it, using much the same strategy that resulted in Hillary Clinton losing (if only via the Electoral College) to Donald Trump. Thus said Zwick, a retired software entrepreneur who's used his math and systems skills to set up an efficient, tamperproof voting system in wealthy Fauquier County and who serves on the party's state committee.
Like Hillary Clinton's campaign, the McAuliffe campaign didn't campaign enough in rural areas and outer suburbs, Zwick said. And McAuliffe, despite his liberal record, didn't emphasize the bread and butter issues that motivate black voters who make up 17 percent of the population. "
So it's no surprise that the black vote declined by nearly 20 percent from the last election, Zwick said.
"Black Virginia simply did not participate in voting this year nearly to the extent they did a year ago," he said. "They were not given a reason to vote for the old rich white guy."
Just as the election wasn't a referendum on Trump, it was not a bellwether for the Biden presidency. Youngkin got roughly 150,000 fewer voters than Trump. McAuliffe got 800,000 fewer votes than Biden.
"It wasn’t that people changed from voting for Biden and voted for Youngkin," Zwick said. "The problem is that Biden voters stayed home."
"You know the old Tip O'Neill line 'All politics are local.' In this case, it was true. This was a local election. It was all about local issues. Terry McAuliffe never realized that."
The similarities to Hillary Clinton's campaign don't stop at the geographic strategy, or the tone deaf inability to feel Americans' pain. McAuliffe just wasn't a strong candidate; he'd barely eked out his victory in his first governor's race and he doesn't have a politician's charisma.
But as Zwick notes, he had controlled the Virginia Democratic party for years. Just about everyone in a position to weigh in on choosing a candidate had been appointed by McAuliffe, in Zwick's words, "to get Hillary Clinton nominated. "Part of the way the current leadership kept control is they would attack and kill and eat anybody who was up and coming. It made it hard for anyone else to run."
Zwick and others predict that the next Virginia election will look very different, as a new generation of Democrats take leadership roles on the local and state level. One of those Democrats is likely to be Jennifer McClelland, someone you can read about in The Woman Who Could Be Governor.
In the meantime, Youngkin is unlikely to make dramatic changes in Virginia. The state senate is still controlled by Democrats and the Virginia's political system consists of a strong legislature and a weak governor.
That's the good news. The bad? In the next election, critical race theory will be back.
The Virginia Race: Businessman v. Businessman
Terry McAuliffe, 64, started his career with a driveway paving business. He did well, married a banker's daughter, founded a bank, and, in short order, he was buying distressed financial institutions with unions. In 1996, he acquired a distressed homebuilding company, American Heritage Homes, built it into a behemoth that was acquired by KB Homes for $74 million.*
Here's the thing. McAuliffe was probably the best fundraiser the Clintons ever had. He and his staff raised $275 million - an unprecedented amount - for Bill Clinton's causes while Bill was president. In those years, one might recall, the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, freeing banks from key regulations and setting the stage for the 2008 economic meltdown.
In February 2001, McAuliffe was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and served until February 2005. During his tenure, the DNC raised $578 million and emerged from debt for the first time in its history.
On the big bucks front, it's worth noting that the Clinton administration pushed through passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated TV, cable, telephone companies, and most importantly, the Internet.
The law was supposed to foster competition. In most cases, it did the opposite.
Politics and business were always synergistic for McAuliffe, who invested $100,000 as an angel investor in Global Crossing, a Bermuda–registered telecommunications company. Global Crossing went public in 1998. In 1999, he sold most of his holdings for $8.1 million.
There's no law against investing, and McAuliffe didn't hold office back then. In 2016, he won a tight race for governor of Virginia in 2016. Virginia's economy did well in those years and McAuliffe was a solid liberal governor. In hindsight, it's telling that even with personal income rising in the state, his popularity paled by comparison with former governors, including one who'd been plagued by scandals involving a Rolex and private plane trips.
* People who lived in California and the American Southwest will remember the environmental destruction wreaked by out-of-control real estate development in the 1990s that was fueled by Clinton-era affluence. McAuliffe is liberal, but his business career? Not so much. He's the ultimate '90s New Democrat.
Glenn Youngkin is a decade younger than McAuliffe. He grew up in Virginia, attended college on a basketball scholarship, followed by a Harvard MBA. He worked as an investment banker, did the requisite McKinsey stint, and spent the next 25 years at the Carlyle Group.
Youngkin rose to a C suite position, not as a dealmaker, but as someone capable of processing large amounts of information and turning the data into something comprehensible, a skill that would serve him well on the campaign trail. After expanding Carlyle's business into Europe, he oversaw a buyout of fracking pipeline company Kinder Morgan, but several other deals foundered and Carlyle's revenues didn't keep up with rival hedge fund, according to Yahoo Business.
What happens when a hedge fund C-suite guy fails up? Politics, of course.
Youngkin's positions on key issues showed his gift for presenting complex subjects in a careful, business-friendly way; in this case, treading the line of being just right-wing enough. He is pro-vaccine but opposes vaccine and mask mandates. He's anti-abortion except, well, sometimes. And he's carefully dodged being seen with Donald Trump. It took him a while but he finally admitted that he would have voted to certify the 2020 election results, so perhaps that's something. Or not.
McAuliffe called Youngkin "the most homophobic candidate in Virginia's history" but Youngkin showed a talent for finessing this issue, too. The Associated Press published an interview with Youngkin in which he reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.
It worked. The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, endorsed Youngkin, who had opposed allowing transgender children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.Youngkin had also expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school suspended after he spoke against the Virginia Department of Education guidelines designed to protect trans and non-binary students.
Winsome Sears, a conservative Republican, will be Virginia's next lieutenant governor. As the first woman and the first woman of color in the office in the commonwealth's 400-year legislative history, Sears proves that when predicting a person's politics, skin color can mean everything - or nothing.
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The Education Song ::: The Gourds
No Education ::: Lightnin’ Hopkins
Eat The Rich ::: Aerosmith
Change Is Now ::: The Byrds
General Election ::: Lord Beginner
A Change Is Gonna Come ::: Bill Frissell
School’s Out ::: Alice Cooper
A Change Is Gonna Come ::: Otis Redding