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Did critical race theory lose Virginia? The Republicans' shock win proves Bidenism is dead

Youngkin has found the secret sauce for post-Trump Republicans (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Youngkin has found the secret sauce for post-Trump Republicans (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


November 4, 2021   4 mins

The stunning defeat suffered by the Democrats in Virginia, a surprisingly close race in deep blue New Jersey and the defeat of a “police defunding measure” in Minneapolis represent a remarkable turning point in American politics. It is less an affirmation of a resurgent Trumpism than a rejection of what might be called Bidenism, an unnatural merger of traditional Democratic corporate politics with a radical, progressive agenda.

Appealing to what James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, has dubbed “faculty lounge politics” — with its emphasis on Critical Race Theory, racial quotas, transgenderism and defunding the police — has become an obvious flaw in their political strategy. These positions might prove popular in certain sections of the media, but not so much among the public.

The Virginia results made evident these failures, particularly on radical education and transgender policies. A state that was on the verge of becoming a deep blue bastion, largely based on the affluent Washington suburbs, moved to the Right in part due to resistance among parents to a new progressive education agenda that prioritised issues such as race, slavery and gender. State-wide polls taken just before the election showed Governor-elect Gregg Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McCauliffe by 15 points among parents.

Yet educational excess was not the only policy area that hurt the Democrats. Overall, the election was won in the Northern Virginia suburbs where the GOP reduced the large Trump deficit in half from 2020. Here, as across the state, the sagging economy and rampaging inflation will have dominated this election; exit polls show that taxes and economic worries were even larger factors than education, pushing voters towards Youngkin.

Not surprisingly the egomaniacal Trump and his minions will claim credit for the GOP gains — Republicans also won Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor race, the state Legislature and possibly the Attorney General — as their own. This is true in part, the Republican base in the state’s rural hinterlands overwhelmingly opted for Youngkin.

Some on the Right will no doubt view the elections an expression of “buyer remorse”, paving the way for a Trump restoration. Yet Trump, according to the national  polls, remains barely more popular than the hapless Joe Biden, and would still likely lose Virginia. He would probably lose many of the affluent suburbs and, unlike Terry McCauliffe, would stimulate progressive voters and minorities to the polls.

In some sense Youngkin may have found the secret sauce for post-Trump Republicans — genuflect to Dr Demento, but don’t have him over for dinner, or brunch, or even in your state. While the Democrats focused on Trump — Biden cited Trump’s name 24 times during a campaign appearance on McAuliffe’s behalf last week — Youngkin sensibly zeroed in on the issues that matter most to your regular suburban family: public safety, schools and taxes. He realised that even moderate, liberal parents do not want racialism brought back into the schools, even if it’s introduced not by neo-Confederates, but impassioned social justice warriors.

His message helped him raise GOP shares, particularly among younger and middle aged voters, where Trump had been trounced in 2020, by double digits. He made a less impressive showing with minorities, who account for roughly a third of the state’s population, although he did win 30% more African-American votes — a key constituency in the former Confederate capital of Richmond in particular — than Trump. The GOP also was wise to nominate a former Marine and Jamaican immigrant, Winsome Sears, for Lieutenant Governor, who may have out-performed Youngkin in the race. Nominating and even electing racial minorities may be dismissed as “tokenism” by many, but ignores the fact that many minorities, and particularly immigrants, are more culturally conservative than the average American.

Yet Youngkin’s challenges, and those of the national GOP, remain enormous, including a national media which will follow and magnify every Gubernatorial misstep. His path to success could easily be thrown off-course by the extreme agenda of the Right, which too often matches in many ways the authoritarianism of the progressive Left. Texas, where the Right seeks to undermine local powers and is focused on issues such as abortion, could be a negative model in more centrist places like Virginia, and other bellwether states.

But these challenges are chopped liver compared to what the Democrats now face. Clearly    the far-Left agenda is not popular even in safely blue areas. In a sharp reversal from early in the pandemic, the desire for more government has fallen to barely 40%, while support for the huge Green New Deal remains tepid at best. On Tuesday, Minneapolis overwhelmingly rejected a police defunding initiative and Eric Adams, a former cop and centrist-sounding Democrat, became Mayor, succeeding the unpopular Leftist Bill de Blasio while defeating his ideological heirs.

The problem the Democrats face is that the progressive agenda now increasingly dominates the party, with even the redoubtable Nancy Pelosi seeming to be led around by boisterously socialist members of the caucus. Along with their powerful allies in the public employee unions, they have tied Biden to a radical programme that would embrace CRT, undermine America’s still-large energy industry, support steps to densify the suburbs and turn against Israel. Suffice it to say that these are not winning positions in much of the country.

Increasingly, the progressives and Biden are increasingly desperate. They seem desperate to impose a radical agenda now, in part because they fear the country, which rejects many of their priorities, will destroy their tiny majority, itself a gift from Trump’s idiotic post-election behaviour, next year. Meanwhile, Biden’s assumed successor, Kamala Harris, has polled badly or worse than her boss.

Successful parties intuit when to shift Right or Left and focus on issues with wide appeal. But Biden seems intent on stumbling through his Presidency as he carries the agenda of those, like Senator Bernie Sanders, who opposed his nomination. McAuliffe may have run a bad campaign, but he also was a victim of the remarkable incompetence, and poor communications, coming from the White House.

If the Democrats are to succeed, what they need is an answer to GOP populism that does not focus on cultural issues. Rather than pin Donald Trump on his tail, they should have gone after Youngkin’s background as co-CEO of the ultra-connected private equity fund Carlyle group. Fundamentally, non-racial social democratic programs of expanding health care, an infrastructure programme focused on roads and bridges, a clear strategy to deal with China all could work to expand, not shrink, the party base.

But this is not the path they have chosen. They still hope that by reviving the Trumpian ghost, enough centrists will go their way. But this will never work: you can’t win the centre while clinging on to the least popular parts of the progressive agenda.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

faculty lounge politics” — with its emphasis on Critical Race Theory, racial quotas, transgenderism and defunding the police — has become an obvious flaw in their political strategy.”
I think that this strategy is a bit more than flawed, buddy. Unhinged, and divorced from reality is what I presume you are saying. So say it

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I saw Marco Rubio saying it was no longer Left versus Right in America but rather Crazy versus Normal. Seems accurate to me.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Good post, but I don’t see how you can say that Biden didn’t have a lot of support. He got the most votes in US history, beat Trump by 6-7 million votes, and had a significant electoral college victory.

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter Morgan
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

Biden had some support but tens of millions voted for him because he was not Trump. Some will always vote D no matter what. The election was much closer than you suggest.

Richard North
Richard North
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

It’s a shame for you that Zuck’s bucks weren’t brought to bear on Virginia – maybe he can be persuaded to fund another election heist in 2024.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

Dead Lives Matter

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

He didn’t even campaign. A trick of software?

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Morgan

Biden would’ve lost running unopposed.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Fundamentally, non-racial social democratic programs of expanding health care, an infrastructure programme focused on roads and bridges, a clear strategy to deal with China all could work to expand, not shrink, the party base.
Totally agree but not only won’t the Dems do this, they can’t do it. Biden made a Faustian bargain with the progressive left to get elected and now the bill has come due. He was never a popular President and didn’t receive a clear mandate from the American people. His one redeeming feature was he isn’t Trump and that attribute is increasingly irrelevant.
Where I live people who have school age children are literally terrified that school closures might be imposed again this winter due to covid. Homeschooling their kids was a heavy burden and they don’t want to do it again. As the author notes, control of the pandemic, stimulating the economy, keeping schools open (and, yes, getting CRT out of schools) are the issues that will make or break the Dems.
A few weeks ago the newspapers were full of the ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan. That was supposedly a threat to the Biden presidency. Nah. Most people don’t care. They’re worried about bread and butter issues.
The Dems have to come up with a good argument for being allowed to remain in power. Not being Trump is no longer good enough.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I hear the same from people I know in the US. To this, I would add crime, taxes, and the cost of home ownership as the biggest issues. Tackling these issues (aside from obvious culture war) is the recipe for Republican success in future, I think. The Democrats and their allies in the big corporations and labour unions (mafias, really, with no concern for their members) have betrayed core sections of the electorate : parents, families, legal workers, etc. By default, the Republicans have become the party of normal people. And normal people in the US can remember that, even if they were personally repulsed by Donald Trump, their fortunes were rising during the Trump presidency. During Obama’s time, it was mostly the rich who got richer.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

You apparently live outside of the U.S., but have more of a grasp of the issues than most who live here. That, in a nutshell, has been the problem for decades…..a completely and shockingly ignorant electorate. Social media is a big part of the issue, as people simply believe anything these days without discernment or thought.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Good post.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

Let’s hope they learn – though I’m not holding my breath. Normally, they just go, “what’s wrong with these dumb people!” and then double-down on calling them thick and racist just a little louder, because, obviously, once the voters understand how thick and racist they are, they’re bound to vote democrat!

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

I don’t know if Kotkin has been paying a bit of attention, but the reason McCauliffe could not go after Youngkin for the Carlyle group is because McCauliffe is a major investor with them.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

This piece reeks of anti-Trumpism and bitter contempt for his “minions.” Trump was and is a vulgarian, but his policies were mostly excellent, and most importantly, he was not a professional politician, who have steered the course of American decline for fifty or sixty years. Trump did his best to blow up the status quo and accomplished much, despite the resistance of the Deep State (a real thing), many of whom live off posh government salaries in the suburbs of Northern Virginia.
The tone is insulting.
Let’s go Brandon!

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Trump was and is a vulgarian, but his policies were mostly excellent..” This is interesting to me. Maybe it is cynical but I vote for policies and not for the person. François Mitterrand had a (not very) secret second family, but that was not what made him a very bad president. George W Bush (apparently) had moral standards but he had catastrophic professional judgement. Now the Democrats, the same people who said that Bill Clinton’s interference with a young intern at the White House was a ‘personal matter’, are very disturbed that Trump is too vulgar and sleeps with porn actresses. This is very transparent. They claim to care about integrity but clearly they have none.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Trump prevented the restoration of Clinton Inc to the White House, and for that alone I am grateful to the man.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

A WAPO article this morning referred to the Democrats linking these stunning losses to the fact that all those blue voters, who suddenly switched to red, was really due to Biden not being able to implement far left policies on social programs and climate change. Yes, they actually said this with a straight face.
At least it wasn’t the usual tripe about not being able to get their message out. Simply laughable.

Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

I’m reminded of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters who complain that Labour lost the last UK General election because its manifesto was not left wing enough.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Maybe keep quiet about that. No need to dispel the illusion.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

The left WANT to call it resurgent Trumpism in order to demonise it. There is obviously NO likelihood they will reflect on their own failures. They will just see it as another example of America/the right are irredeemably evil and racist – and that they need to fight even more.

Gerard McGlynn
Gerard McGlynn
2 years ago

The rebalancing of American politics has begun, hopefully. Love him or loath him Trump had to happen. The political dynasties, the Bushes the Clintons, all the “professional” politicians, the bubble elites had to go. They were once called the Silent Majority, but the blue collar voice was still being ignored until Trump.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

Joel Kotkin’s articles always sound like a letter to himself, as if two competing halves of his personality are in a desperate battle. There is his rational self who wants to be thoughtful and objective locking horns with the addled, angry partisan who has a sort of tourettes for associating Republicans with the nearest convenient evil. It’s like the guy in the park who’s having an argument with an unseen adversary.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago

“Bidenism” was never actually alive. The man has never been anything but an ignorant hack and a corrupt one too. He presides now over the implosion of the Democrat party; most of its functionaries are far too arrogant and insular to learn any lesson.

Su Mac
Su Mac
2 years ago

New Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears – what a woman !! And in her promo she aligns herself absolutely with the last Trump 2020 campaign. And Youngkin aligns himself directly with “election integrity” Not sure how that sits with this analysis..

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
2 years ago

Certainly can’t be the sagging economy as it affects Northern Virginia, since NoVa has been the principal beneficiary of the ever inflating Defence budget currently around 800 billion a year. Loudoun County was completely rural when I arrived in the 80s. Now it’s a complete suburban/defence enclave mess. Fairfax County has long been a DOD agency and contractor hub. Prince William and Fauqier are also being rapidly suburbanized.
I think it is Virginia’s tendency to always alternate between Republican and Democrat governors that is still operative.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

Is undoubtedly correct. The fact that no-one can serve as Governor in Virginia for two consecutive terms means that there is never an “incumbent” factor, and, bearing in mind most turnouts are low seats can change hands and often do. Anyone attempting to construct a forcast for the next few years is largely guessing.
Incidentally CRT is not taught in schools in Virginia or anywhere else in the US

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

“Incidentally CRT is not taught in schools in Virginia or anywhere else in the US”.

Evidence?

Or are you suggesting Harvard Law modules aren’t being taught at K12 level. Praxis: practice, as distinguished from theory.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Raiment
Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

What is wrong with Richard’s post? Just stating a few facts.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

With regard to CRT he made a statement without evidence. Maybe he thinks parents are lying when they say that it’s being taught in schools (via praxis) or is unaware of Twitter posts with teachers boasting that they’re teaching it. A half truth is a whole lie, maybe he’ll be telling us next that CRT actually stands for Culturally Responsible Teaching.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Raiment
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

I seem to recall earlier times when American cultural icons from Rocky to rock stars to Tootsie to US track-and-field sprint relay teams wrapped themselves up in the Stars And Stripes, all hailing their happiness and freedoms. I’m probably thinking of the 1980s. A horrible, horrible time 
 because there was no internet, no smart phones and people were thus highly ignorant of their history, unlike today, when we can tap into all our ills and blemishes and own up to being horrible, horrible people.
People might actually be waking up to the fact that in the technology age, they ought to be happy, confident and treasured. Their long-gone forbears, who had had so little, perhaps, would expect them to perk up and shake off the Left’s rampant denunciations of them. So the swing to the Republicans is happening.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
2 years ago

Ironically, Trump seems to be the biggest obstacle to Trumpism today.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

The Republicans’ shock win proves Bidenism is dead
Is there such a thing as Bidenism? Genuine question.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

This certainly does make very good sense.

Red Sanders
Red Sanders
2 years ago

Hit this sentence, and as a brain-dead minion, I lacked the intelligence of the author, so went on to something else that might be comprehensible to my jello mind.

“Not surprisingly the egomaniacal Trump and his minions will claim credit for the GOP gains.”