All Politics Are Local--Particularly In An Off-Cycle Year
Clinton Democrat Terry McAwful loses Virginia, but some lesser races and political events around the country are also worth your attention
It’s another post-election day, and it’s time to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you have a friend who is a dedicated political junkie, please:
The wailing and moaning about Terry McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia leave me unmoved. It is a mystery to me why the so-called “liberal media” wants to make such things a litmus test of a Biden presidency that has barely begun. On the one hand, since 1977 the Virginia governor’s office has always flipped when the presidency does. There is one exception—when McAuliffe won in 2013 against Ken Cuccinelli, whose platform included reinstating sodomy laws, expelling undocumented immigrants from universities, repealing birthright citizenship, and mandatory English-only workplaces.
Back then, even Republicans—who now would embrace all these measures—thought Cuccinelli was cuckoo bananas. So voting for McAuliffe (who had already earned the moniker “Terry McAwful” for his ruthlessness as chair of the Democratic National Committee between 2002 and 2004) was a no-brainer. McAuliffe’s principal power in the Democratic party came not from his vision as a policy-maker but because of a prodigious fundraising ability, beginning with Bill and Hillary Clinton, that moved seamlessly into the digital era.
Which is exactly why the notion that McAuliffe could repeat the “magic” of 2012, which was really no magic at all, is the kind of political consulting you get from a first-year college political science major.
Today, unevolved Clinton Democrats are hard to support, except by the part of the party that are still Clinton Democrats and the “suck it up and vote” Democrats who will loyally trudge out to the polls with the sole goal of keeping Republicans out of office. Clintonism isn’t even really appealing to party centrists anymore, and independents—who everyone claims to be wooing—are really not down with that warmed-up treacle.
Furthermore, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party offers a real alternative to Clinton-style political campaigning that is entirely divorced from the needs of Democratic voters and proposes little to address contemporary dilemmas. At the Liberal Patriot, Peter Juul and John Halpin argue that Terry McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia proves this point: while being against everything the opposition stands for works to motivate GOP voters, Democrats want something to vote for. McAuliffe “presented no affirmative agenda or vision in this race,” Juul and Halpin write, and failed to present a program or make an argument about why he should be governor.
The other thing McAauliffe’s loss proves? When a candidate closes the gap in the last two weeks, as Glenn Youngkin did, you shouldn’t be surprised and mortified when the guy wins. As an aside, The Lincoln Project trolling Youngkin with Tiki torches probably offended a great many white suburban Virginia voters. These folks are already swooning over their children reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved or anything that mentions race or sex in AP English, and McAuliffe’s campaign should have stopped them. Pretend Naxis are just bad politics on so many levels.
So, here are a few other things that I noticed:
Hundreds of Texans spent Election Day in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was shot at 12:30 on November 22, 1963. What were they doing? Waiting for John F. Kennedy, Jr. (who is dead) to show up—also at 12:30—to announce he would be running in 2024 with Donald Trump. Significance? These things happen right out in the open in Texas, and the Governor Greg Abbott does nothing about them—for example, showing up and telling his voters that this is a weird and awful fantasy and someone is making a fool of them. But also—what were they not doing? Voting! Whoever is perpetrating these fraudulent rumors did not choose yesterday for a Second Coming by accident. That person also has a very peculiar sense of humor and an excellent sense of theater—but this looked like an experiment to me.
Michelle Wu will be the first woman and the first person of color to be Mayor of Boston. This strikes me as a huge deal and is underreported outside my newish home state. Of course, Wu was expected to win, but here’s a little nugget: she is yet another one of Elizabeth Warren’s former students to win elective office. Warren may never be president—but she is clearly buikding a deep bench of progressive Democratic politicians.
And guess what the right is up to? Winning judiciary seats in Pennsylvania, including an open Supreme Court seat, a Superior Court seat, and a Commonwealth court seat. Do I see anyone writing about this, particularly given how important the courts were to staving off the Trumpist coup in 2020-21? No, I do not. Why were the Democrats still begging for money and time to support the McAuliffe campaign when a state Supreme Court seat in Pennsylvania was on the line?
New Yorkers elected Alvin Bragg as their first Black District Attorney (yay!) and their second Black mayor, former cop Eric Adams (yawn.) Adams says he plans to bring New Yorkers together, a pronouncement that was about as novel as everything else about his campaign and his policy agenda. And is there a reason that New York Democrats floated election reform measures in a low-turnout year when they were particularly vulnerable to aggressive Republican campaigning? They lost, which was predictable, given how little publicity these measures received.
As part of my project to help keep my readers from political despair: Americans may not lose their right to abortion after all. OK, this was the day before the election, but Monday’s SCOTUS hearings on The Texas Fetal Heartbeat Law were worth a listen. I recommend the part where Brett Kavanaugh argued that if the Texas Law were allowed to stand, gun rights opponents could use similar ones against the Second Amendment. New York Magazine’s Irin Carmon thinks the court will strike the law down. That they even rushed it onto the docket is significant. “Is it a coincidence,” Carmon asks, “that a Gallup poll conducted a few weeks after the court allowed SB8 to go into effect showed a drop of nine points in the public’s esteem of the Court since July?”
Pay attention to your school board races, people. The 1776 project PAC, a pro-Trump culture wars organization, backed 58 candidates nationwide and may have won as many as 44 seats. This is a low-cost way of allowing culture warriors to have positions of power over local schools and drive the issues with which Republicans hope to mobilize voters in 2022 and 2024. It is also a sign that, after all these years, Republicans are still better at grassroots politics than Democrats are.
Were there any local results where you are that readers should know about? Tell us about them in the comments section by clicking the button below.
I totally agree with your assessment of the VA gubernatorial election, Claire. McAuluffe was an unappealing, flawed candidate who offered very little to Democrats in VA other than not being a Republican. I also detest that the media has decided that this election’s story is that Biden’s Presidency is already a failure when Biden hasn’t even served a year yet. They might as well be reading tea leaves. Argh!
Ann B: Another "well done" Claire.