Discover more from The Bulwark
Why Can't You Beat These Guys?
Plus: 5 remarkable election results
Some brutal results for Democrats last night in Virginia and in (checks notes) New Jersey, which is still too close to call. So, some tough love seems to be in order.
The Republican Party — populated with cranks, crooks, clowns, bigots and deranged conspiracy theorists — has spent five years alienating women, minorities and young voters.
The party — and its entire leadership from the grassroots to Congress — remains in thrall to a disgraced, defeated, one-term president, who is reduced to issuing increasingly crazed screeds from his exile in Mar-a-Lago. Every day we learn more about Republican complicity in the events of Jan. 6 and their attempts to whitewash an attempted coup.
The GOP is the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Louie Gohmert.
Sane Republicans are heading for the exits, even as assaults on democratic norms have become a litmus test of loyalty.
So, now, Democrats need to ask themselves this rather urgent question:
Why can’t we beat these guys?
Tuesday night, Democrats lost the governorship of Virginia — a state Joe Biden won by 10 points — to a Donald Trump-endorsed candidate, who ran up massive margins in rural parts of the state and made inroads into the once reliably blue suburbs.
There are obvious caveats and rationalizations available: Virginia has a long history of voting against the party in the White House in off-year elections; and Democrats did, in fact, beat Republicans in 2018 and 2020. They control both houses of Congress and the presidency.
But even with Joe Biden’s slumping poll numbers, Virginia should have been a firewall. As political guru Reuben Rodriguez (who nailed the 2020 results) noted, Virginia is a “Dem dream.” It has the highest concentration of tuned-in highly educated white people in the country in northern Virginia. It has large African American centers in Richmond and “very diverse suburbs that are ground zero for Trump disgust.”
“This,” he tweeted hours before the Democratic defeat, “is a state that should not vote red.”
But it did. And thus Virginia became the latest in a series of warning signs for the Democrats, who suffered unexpected losses in congressional and state-level elections despite defeating Trump last year.
So this seems a good time to ask hard questions that I suspect Democrats won’t appreciate.
Glenn Youngkin may have run as a quasi-post-Trumpian candidate, but across the country, Republicans continue to beclown themselves with lies about the election, even as they become more extreme on issues from guns to abortion.
But then why does a new NBC poll give Republicans double-digit leads on issues like border security, inflation, crime, the economy, national security and even on “getting things done”?
Why are Democrats facing the possibility of a Republican wave in 2022, and — even more ominous — the restoration of the Trump presidency in 2024?
Why can’t they beat these guys, even in a state as blue as Virginia?
Democrats have been busy constructing excuses for their lack of success. They blame dark money, gerrymandering, racism, the right-wing media ecosystem.
But none of the self-soothing explanations account for what has been a clear erosion in support not merely in rural areas, but also among suburbanites and Black and Hispanic voters.
Five other extraordinary results
New Jersey was supposed to be a blow-out for the Democrats, with polls showing incumbent governor Phil Murphy cruising to a landslide re-election. Instead, it’s a nail-biter, and a possible stunning upset. Here’s the NYT graphic right now:
In Buffalo, New York, Democratic Socialist India Walton was the only name on the ballot for mayor. She had beaten the incumbent, Mayor Byron Brown, in the primary and for a time seemed poised to become the nation’s first socialist mayor in decades.
But Mayor Brown and other non-socialist Democrats wouldn’t go away. The incumbent launched an improbable write-in campaign — and last night won by a margin of around 59-41.
In Minneapolis, Politico reports that voters “overwhelmingly rejected a measure to overhaul the city’s police department. The measure, which had exposed Democrats to criticism that it aimed to ‘defund the police’ at a time when the city was experiencing a surge in violence, would have replaced the department with a ‘Department of Public Safety’ and eliminated minimum staffing requirements.”
In Seattle, moderate Bruce Harrell handily defeated progressive Lorena González in that city’s mayoral race. Police funding was a major issue in the race: “González supported reducing the Seattle Police Department's budget. In September 2020, she said that divestment from a broken policing model was not just the right thing to do, it was the necessary course of action.”
This also happened:A Republican leads Seattle's race for City Attorney -- the other candidate is a self-described police abolitionist -- and looks poised to elect a mayor (a Democrat) who favors more police over one who voted to cut police spending. seattletimes.com/seattle-news/p…
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin…
This is a race that drew national attention, including a massive piece in the NYT: “Energizing Conservative Voters, One School Board Election at a Time.”
In the end, the recall was defeated 60-40, despite a campaign funded by billionaire Richard Uihlein, the organized backing of local Republicans and talk-radio, and high-profile support from the GOP’s front-runner for governor, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
Why did the anti-CRT campaign fail here, when it proved so successful in Virginia?
I asked one of the local activists who opposed the effort. Here’s what she had to say:
One key was local leaders who stepped up, including a letter from former mayors opposing the recall effort.
I think earned media was also key. Exposing that thinly veiled agenda was important. Half of the candidates had crazy stuff on their social media that they didn’t think to lock down prior to running.
The [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel] was really on it in that last month. The AP article (Tea Party 2.0?) was pivotal in getting further attention - including eventually NYT and Stephanie Saul.
There was so much disinformation. We had a small team of folks on social media who would correct disinformation when they saw it and hammer it home, including the inform Facebook group.
We didn’t allow the Democrats anywhere near this. They reached out to candidates and everyone declined. They dangled their voter software - we said no. (You can apparently buy data software as a 3rd party) - I think they may have mobilized their voters in their end. It required unifying fully against the recall.
The coalition is made up of folks who just last year were on opposite sides of in person vs. virtual debate…. We have varying political beliefs. We had to work together.
Redirecting folks with their own agendas back to the bigger threat was very important. At one point a few more liberal-leaning parents wanted to get involved in that Brewing Co class action lawsuits over masks. They were strongly urged by everyone else to stop.
I think the general demographics of our community helped too. We have resources. While conservative, most folks are not MAGA. Even those who did vote for Trump in 2020, did so holding their nose because they wanted tax cuts, etc…. That certainly did not equate to wanting Trump-like clowns near our district.
We canvassed (local parents) vs. the recall who used out-of -county young Republicans… I think having your neighbor tell you something is more effective than outsourcing to a college student who doesn’t even know how to spell Thiensville…
1. Giving Up on Rural America Is Proving a Nightmare for Democrats
Make sure you read Tim Miller’s post-Virginia autopsy in today’s Bulwark.
In the next few days, barrels of ink will be spilled writing about what happened in the burbs and the merits of the CRT wars, but for present purposes, here’s the main takeaway: Republicans actually came up with a plan to eat into the Democrats’ new coalition and that plan worked. They didn’t throw up their hands and decide the burbs were lost forever. They keyed in on an issue where the Democrats were out of step with the views of some of their voters and won on it. That’s Politics 101.
Meanwhile the Democrats don’t even seem to be trying to do the reverse—to chip away at the GOP hold on working-class whites—despite the fact that there are plenty of potential opportunities to wedge them.
2. Why Are We So Awful to Each Other?
I sense that people’s anger makes them feel alive and gives them a much-needed sense of community. If you hate together, you’re at least together, right? People are too damn atomized. America’s families have been in decline for decades, which has weakened communities, and localism generally. The internet has further isolated us, freeing our ids while starving our hearts.
I don’t know where this is all headed. Yes, I mean the house, but also the country. We’re in the s*** now. Let’s hope there’s a way out.
3. Why One Virginian Voted for Biden Last Year and Youngkin This Year
An email from a reader may shed some light on what happened last night in Virginia. I’m passing it on for information purposes:
Although there seemed to be a disbelief that such a thing as a Biden/Youngkin voter existed prior to election night, I am one such example. I have outlined a few reasons below:
1-Issue was Trump, not a rejection of traditional Republican policies- I voted for every Republican presidential candidate since I cast my first vote for George H.W. Bush until 2016 when I realized that I could no longer support the Republican candidate. In 2016, I essentially voted present with a McMullin vote but actively voted against Trump in 2020 with a Biden vote. Although I am extremely disheartened with the manner of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the bipartisan infrastructure debacle, I don’t regret voting against Trump. Biden’s standing now had essentially nothing to do with my vote for governor. In this time, however, I never became a Democrat and definitely not a supporter of progressive policies.
2-Democratic governance in Virginia the past four years- Let’s start with Northam’s medical school yearbook Blackface/KKK scandal. No Republican candidate could have ever survived this one and Northam showed a Trumpian level of shamelessness in his denials. Northam also refused to resign, mainly because the Lt. Governor had a credible allegation of sexual assault against him and was no longer considered a credible replacement. Yet the same woke regime that defended Northam remaining in office will defend people losing jobs and scholarships over Tweets posted in middle school and high school. Ironically, McAuliffe embraced Northam, memory-holed the scandal, and accused Youngkin of being the closeted, dog-whistling racist in the campaign. Additionally, education with the COVID school shutdowns and the push for equity over equality for competitive school admissions and even math (see attached) became real issues that angered many of us living in the high-cost, high-tax DC suburbs in Virginia such as Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. Just look up the parent revolt last year after Thomas Jefferson High School changed its admission standards from testing to a more holistic approach because the students that gained seats there were disproportionally Asian. Equality of opportunity is actively being replaced with equality of outcome or equity in the state’s schools. Although it may not be the textbook definition of CRT, it is hardly a figment of parent’s imagination.
3-Youngkin is not perfect but he’s not Trump- McAuliffe maintains all the sleaze factor of 90s era Bill Clinton but without his charm or political skill. His campaign was entirely negative and he tried to nationalize a local campaign. Trump was not on the ticket but McAuliffe acted like The Former Guy was running against him. Lastly, Youngkin was just more likable than McAuliffe.