Washington, D.C. – The Republicans are understandably excited about Tuesday’s election results. They must, however, take care not to read too much into them. The suggestion the party was on the road to destruction as the result of Trumpism was clearly an overstatement. Without a clear and consistent message moving forward, the just on gains are likely to be illusory.
In Virginia, retired businessman Glenn Youngkin ran about as perfect a campaign as is ever possible. He made no major gaffes. He deftly sidestepped the Trump issue. He stayed on message 100 percent of the time and talked about issues people really care about like education.
You could not ask for a better candidate or a better campaign.
On the contrary his opponent, former Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe, ran one of the worst competitive campaigns in modern history. He failed to connect with voters. He talked about issues that were only important to the Democrats’ radical base and did not grow his vote. Except for one or two polls that now seem to have been outliers, he never got over 50 percent in the pre-election polling.
The Republicans were firing on all cylinders. They even managed to field a candidate in every race for the state House of Delegates. The Democrats were barely able to get the engine of their political machine to turn over. Nonetheless, Virginia saw a record turnout on both sides and Youngkin won – but by only two points and with barely over 50 percent of the vote.
This is a cause for considerable reflection when the time for celebration ends. Youngkin can claim a mandate — but to do what? Merely winning the governorship – and the other two statewide constitutional offices and a new, narrow majority in the lower legislative chamber does not prove the voters endorsed everything you might want to do over the next two years. It is at least as likely the GOP’s various wins represent little more than a rejection of the big government, neo-socialist program the Democrats have been pushing since taking over the state.
It’s a possibility the GOP must consider if they want to become the state’s permanent majority party once again.
The results in New Jersey likewise suggest voters in purplish-blue states are fed up with the Democrats as they now are. They nearly tossed a machine Democrat out of the governor’s office in favor of a former GOP member of the State Assembly about whom they knew comparatively little over bread-and-butter issues like taxes and the incumbent’s aggressive enforcement of his lockdown orders during the pandemic. Recounts are in the offing and allegations of fraud need to be investigated but the rejection (or near rejection) of one slate of officials does not automatically equal the acceptance of their replacements’ agenda.
Minneapolis voters rejected –by a sizeable margin – a ballot proposal to eliminate the city’s police department. It was a major issue now in the last election thanks to the unrest there and elsewhere throughout 2020 but can anyone really say they were surprised it got crushed. In any other year, a proposal to eliminate the police department of a major American city would be dismissed as an effort pushed by fringe radicals hardly worthy of attention.
The message for GOP operatives and legislators planning strategy for the next election is to read the results carefully instead of presuming the 2021 results are a demand for changes they already want to make. It would be a mistake to move forward without testing out this hypothesis.
In Virginia Team Youngkin must recognize its ability to act boldly on initiatives that were not central to the campaign like making the commonwealth the national leader in charter schools, making it the east coast center of sci-med and biotech, and starting the process of eliminating the state income tax depend on convincing the voters these would be wise moves. He should be a bold advocate for what he wants to do but must also recognize that, unlike the abolition of the sales tax on groceries on which he campaigned, he needs to establish a consensus for anything new and radical.
This is the exact opposite of what Biden and the Democrats who won control of Congress did. They did not have the mandate they thought to enact policies that would make America much more like a high tax, European social welfare state. Their misinterpretation of what the voters wanted has cost them dearly. A poll published Sunday in USA Today shows Biden’s approval rating at 38 percent – the lowest for any president at this time in his presidency — while Vice President Kamala Harris is even lower at 28 percent. Clearly they and their partisan agenda are failing
The Republicans must not, however, mistake what is going on at this moment for an irreversible trend. What we are witnessing is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is not likely the beginning of the end of the Biden Administration. It may however be the end of the beginning of the Democrats’ latest push for big government socialism in America.
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Peter Roff can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.