Commentary: Red Tuesday
Nobody saw Tuesday’s blue disaster coming. Or maybe everybody did.
CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – NOVEMBER 02: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin takes the stage at an election-night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 02, 2021 in Chantilly, Virginia. Virginians went to the polls Tuesday to vote in the gubernatorial race that pitted Youngkin against Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Herewith, because you know you haven’t already had enough election 2021 post-mortems, my five-part take on the brutal Tuesday Democrats just suffered through.
 Not Them. Republicans may not all agree about everything but they do agree about one thing: turnout. Liberal Democrats cultivate indifference to moderates on the ballot, and moderates do likewise with lefty candidates. And moderates and liberals both let ho-hummers like the retread Terry McAuliffe dampen their ballot enthusiasm. Republicans leave intraparty dissatisfactions behind when it’s time to vote. They see that “not Dem” is on the ballot, so they show up and pull the damn lever for whoever the hell it is.
 Not Crazy. The case of Trump might seem contrary to that last point given the many moderate Republicans who did flee his madness in 2020. But two points about that. One: Not that many. Two: Dems were fooled into thinking that fleeing Trump’s crazy equals fleeing Trump-sympathizing crazy down ballot (as we learned in 2020 Senate and House races but apparently the lesson didn’t take). Framing a 2021 or 2022 race as a Trump referendum fails because Trump-averse GOP moderates understand that governors and legislators don’t have fingers on nuclear triggers.
 Dithering. Many are saying that Democrats’ congressional dithering over the spending bills is a proximate cause of electoral calamity. Would Terry McAuliffe in Virginia have gotten more votes had those bills been wrapped up before the election? Sure. Would it have been enough to change the outcome? Maybe. But the electoral crime is not so much the dithering as the messaging around it. Dems for months have fed purple voters exactly the narrative needed to view the party in power as a blend of infighting and incompetence who perhaps shouldn’t be trusted to spend all of this money.
 Masterbaiting. Republicans have masterfully baited Democrats into spending too much time litigating an existential threat to democracy itself. Do Trump’s various machinations aimed at 2024 pose such a threat? Quite possibly yes. But do Republicans who ran this year for governor in Virginia and New Jersey represent existential threats to the future of the republic? Of course not, and swing voters aren’t too stupid to grasp the difference.
In similar fashion, the GOP has successfully baited Democrats into putting too much time and effort into culture war issues. Yes it’s conservatives who declare war and fire up the troops, but it’s Democrats who show up on the battlefield with way too much materiel and launch way too much firepower at an enemy who is merely shouting vapid insults from the woods. (Battle metaphor tortured; confession elusive.) Democrats, for instance, treat the Critical Race Theory business as an frontal assault on the integrity of education, when in fact it’s just transparently dumbshit identity-baiting that changes nothing. Parents, which is to say voters, construe the Dems’ apocalyptic reaction not as seriousness of purpose about the problems of public education, but as a virtue signaling marker of distracted incompetence. The objections to objections to CRT are certainly less inane than the objections to CRT, but most voters aren’t that finely tuned on an issue that, let’s face it, doesn’t really matter. Ergo Virginia.
 Hate Wins. Above all, I marvel at how Republicans have successfully ginned up hate – not just strident opposition, but outright Hillary-level mouth-foaming hate – at Joe Biden. This is no small accomplishment. Sure, Biden’s governing agenda has been a bit more progressive than his past or his candidacy, but not that much more, and many of the specifics enjoy popular support across party lines. Biden is, let’s face it, a slightly doddering, generally moderate, and seemingly genial old man – the sort of leader opponents make fun of or dismiss, not the kind you expect to become a target of raging antipathy by a large segment of the country. Yet Republicans have pulled it off, painting Biden as a toxic stew of senility, corruption, incompetence, and communism who will break into your house, call your kids racists, and make them speak Chinese. On Tuesday they successfully parlayed their Biden caricature into slowing the suburban roll toward the middle, and making already deep red counties even redder.
So what’s the blue remedy? I’ll tell you what it isn’t. Some think a crucial pivot in Virginia happened after McAauliffe’s – how shall we put this? – less than artful comment back in September about parents’ role in public education. In a Wednesday election post-mortem on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the conversation turned to partisan divides on education. Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary, suggested that liberals need to “form a coalition of parents” who can explain to conservatives how they are being led astray: “I think Democrats run away from these issues too quickly.” Right, libsplaining on culture war issues will turn things around for the Democratic party. Good lord. Might as well just tune out now and start pondering 2028.
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