The Lessons from Virginia and Why No One Will Learn Them

And also, jobs!

Hello everyone. It’s me, David Podhaskie, A.K.A, Roscoe Conkling; A.K.A, DJ Skinny Sticks; A.K.A., Boneless; A.K.A, Dr. The Pro; A.K.A, Venti Ralph Macchio. I have family in town so this will be a shorter Jackal (a Shackal), but I did want to discuss a few things, namely the race in Virginia and the jobs report/economy. WE ALSO FINALLY HAVE AN INFRASTRUCTURE BILL.

Glenn Youngkin 2024

Before getting into the things Democrats should learn from their loss in Virginia, I think it’s important to highlight what can often be an under-appreciated fact in modern politics: Glenn Youngkin won because he ran a very good campaign. He had an almost surgical ability to touch on issues that converted some 2020 Biden voters, while also exciting the Trumpy GOP base without alienating said 2020 Biden voters.

If you look at the actual Op-Eds that Youngkin wrote, you can see that he focused on education more broadly and didn’t even mention Critical Race Theory (CRT) itself. Then, his Campaign used CRT to drive up Republican support in conservative media, which is isolated from a lot of normal voters. Youngkin was able to go on the “TV” show of human ham sandwich, Sebastian Gorka, and get his message out to the GOP base, despite the fact that Gorka actively cheered on the insurrection as it was happening on January 6th. And because Gorka is unknown to 75% of the public, Youngkin never had to pay any political price for it. Also, his fleece sweater vests and strong Suburban Dad Energy™ probably helped.

I think it’s similarly important to note that McAuliffe ran a really bad campaign. He had essentially no message other than trying to replicate what worked for Gavin Newsom in California: Tie the Republican to Trump. A good thread on why that didn’t work (and likely will not work in the future):

And then there was this too:

McAuliffe’s Campaign was, to put it simply, very lazy in both its understanding of the electorate and its reliance on the blue base of Virginia; Democrats will definitely not be able to tie every Republican to Trump in 2022. Prior to the election on Tuesday, a lot of people thought that Trump would always be a motivating issue in our elections and that turned out to be laughably wrong.

Before I get into the actual lessons Democrats should learn about their loss in Virginia, I think the most important caveat is that it’s really hard to suss out what the electorate was like last Tuesday because we have incomplete data. FiveThirtyEight’s analysis suggests that the results might just be related to President Biden’s unpopularity. In addition (his piece is paywalled), G. Elliott Morris of The Economist goes into great detail about why the exit poll results are (surprise) very much unreliable. One set of exit polls shows McAuliffe doing way better than Biden with Hispanics and Black voters, which throws a wrench in the GOP’s conclusion that, “even minority voters do not like CRT.” But another exit poll shows Youngkin winning minority voters. Morris’s conclusion:

The big takeaway: When it comes to assessing the composition of the electorate using exit polls, there is no truth; There are only estimates.

That said, I think there is a gut-level DPOD take here that is applicable (and my last gut-level DPOD take turned out to be right). Democrats have, for sure, become lazy on not only the education issue - which used to be a lock for them - but also on rural voters.

On education, even though CRT is not taught in Virginia schools, things that are CRT-adjacent are probably taught in classrooms and sent home with kids. One of the reasons well-educated parents in the Virginia suburbs ate up Youngkin’s pitch on education is likely because they work in high-paying jobs with big HR departments that have smatterings of the Robin DiAngelo/Ibram X. Kendi philosophy that gets looped in with CRT (I’ve bashed that philosophy before). What Virginia should show the Democrats is that just saying, “CRT ISN’T TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS,” isn’t a strong rebuttal to the GOP tactic, even if it is technically accurate (emphasis on technically). And, because this strategy has worked for Republicans, they are not going to back off. In fact, the big anti-CRT activists (again) admitted their campaign is being waged in bad faith:

The debate about CRT isn’t going to end simply because fact checkers will run to the side of Democratic candidates.

However, the evidence we have from Tuesday doesn’t even suggest that CRT was the number one issue for the electorate as a whole. CNN interviewed some suburban Moms in Virginia who voted for Biden and then switched to Youngkin. None of them said CRT was an important issue for them, with a couple saying that CRT did not influence their decision to vote for Youngkin “at all.” They were actually more concerned with school closures and the learning loss imposed by the pandemic.

If you look elsewhere, it really looks like school closures and other issues drove swing voters to Republicans. For instance, on Long Island there was a race for the County Executive of Nassau County, and the Republican challenger - Bruce Blakeman1 - looks to have unseated his opponent. How did a Republican win in a where Democrats have a 90,000+ voter advantage? He ran on getting kids back into schools and a local issue: Tax reassessments that were done under the Democratic incumbent. He never even mentioned CRT!

So, what should the GOP learn? Well, given that Youngkin won by staying pretty distant from Trump, that should teach the GOP that they actually can win without He Who Shall Not Be Named. But it is unlikely that they will learn that lesson:

To be fair, I don’t think the Democrats are going to learn any of the necessary lessons either. But they could do with re-examining their takes on education and also their abandonment of rural voters, as Tim Miller points out in the Bulwark:

The story is the same throughout the rural part of the state. Here are a few other examples, with the margins rounded to nearest hundred:

  • Wythe County in Southwest Virginia:
    Gillespie +4,200, Youngkin +7,400 (93% of precincts reporting)

  • Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley:
    Gillespie +10,800; Youngkin +16,200 (91% reporting)

  • Augusta County also in the Shenandoah, including Staunton:
    Gillespie +11,200; Youngkin +18,900 (96% reporting)

  • Lee County in the far western corner of the state, sandwiched by Tennessee and Kentucky:
    Gillespie +4,000; Youngkin +5,500 (95% reporting)

These margins all add up. So while it’s true that in a place like Virginia running up Assad-like numbers in Southside isn’t enough on its own, those tallies can be decisive when combined with the shifts we saw in Loudoun (which went for the Democrat 59-39 in 2017 but this year appears to have gone for McAuliffe by only 55-44) and Virginia Beach (which the Democrat won 52-47 in 2017 but McAuliffe appears to have lost 45-54 this year).

The cold reality here is that both Parties seem to be overly reliant on turning out their respective base, which means throwing more red meat. For Democrats, that means more, “CRT is a racist dog whistle,” and for Republicans it means more Trump.

OK, so the economy is actually booming. For real. The jobs report on Friday was good on its face, as it showed we added 531,000 jobs in October. Moreover, the numbers from August and September were revised upwards by 235,000 jobs. What happened over the summer was that the Delta variant took a big swing at the U.S. and it looks like it missed. Despite an ongoing pandemic, employers are still looking to hire workers and pay them higher wages.

So, here’s the thing: If FiveThirtyEight is right and the results in Virginia are more likely related to cyclical issues and Joe Biden’s unpopularity, shouldn’t the good news on the economy be a pretty decent narrative for Democrats?

Couple that with the Dow Jones hitting 36,000, we should be asking ourselves how Republicans would be presenting this news had Trump won in 2020.

There is a good piece here on how Biden got his infrastructure deal passed, a major legislative win for the Administration. It really is amazing how quickly politics can change: Democrats went from licking their wounds on Tuesday to getting great economic news on Friday and passing huge legislation later that night.

I’ll just leave this here and say Project Veritas is in a lot of trouble. The FBI does not do 6 A.M. raids on a Saturday for no reason.

That’s it from me for this episode of The Shackal. I’ll see all my habibis next week.


Important disclosure: I did some work on Blakeman’s former campaigns for public office.