There were many unambiguous and well-documented takeaways from this month’s elections about the changing state of national politics. With parents inflamed by a loss of control over their children’s education, the creeping infusion of critical race theory into curricula, and the extended lockdowns that kept schools shuttered, voters in Virginia who delivered an upset victory to Republican Glenn Youngkin famously listed education as their top issue. With inflation rising, the threat of massive new federal spending on the horizon, and pandemic-related uncertainty still in the air, the economy rose to the top of the list as another present concern of the scattered electorate.
But now that we have some distance from the 2021 elections, it may well be that the single most significant message delivered by the voters did not really have to do with education or the economy. Of course, it depends on many as yet unknown factors, and whether the red wave of 2022 materializes as expected, but in hindsight, we may well conclude that the headline from the campaign of ‘21 was not so much about the issues pressed by Republicans as it was the complete rejection of the central theme of their opponents – and what it portends for the midterm and presidential elections ahead.
The Great Virginia Miscalculation
Democrats evidently believed their success in weaponizing a pandemic to destroy the presidency of Donald Trump would translate and extend successfully into guilt by party association a year later. Especially given that Trump had been tarred and feathered by the left over the Charlottesville affair in Virginia, it was not surprising that the fundamental strategy of that state’s Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe was to paint his Republican opponent with the broad brush of Trumpism, to attach to Youngkin the left’s damning caricature of the 45th president. After all, what better place to test the enduring strength of the Trump-as-fascist message than the state of “very fine people.” McAuliffe became Johnny One-Note.
“People remember Charlottesville, when he failed us that … horrible day, when he said there were fine people on both sides,” McAuliffe stated. “Trump is hate and division … my opponent is a Trump wannabe.” Youngkin, on the other hand, played his Trump card just right, neither attaching himself to, nor distancing himself from, the former president. He said Trump “represents so much of why I’m running,” that he was “honored” to receive 45’s endorsement, and welcomed comparisons to him.
Even The New York Times felt compelled to bow to journalistic integrity in describing the contrast between the candidates, Youngkin “offering an optimistic vision for the future while Terry McAuliffe delivered harsh warnings about ghosts of the past.” In the closing speech of his campaign one day before the election, McAuliffe invoked Trump’s name 13 times in 15 minutes. Just two days previous, with his long-held lead evaporating, he had tried to claim he was not doing what he was openly doing, per CNN’s truly amusing headline, “McAuliffe says Virginia election ‘is not about Trump’ after making former President central figure in campaign.”
In the end, a prominent Washington newspaper with intimate ties to the left headlined it best: “Virginia’s gubernatorial race tests the fear-of-Trump factor as a political motivator.” Apparently, the only thing the GOP had to fear was, in the words of a famous Democrat president, fear itself. The Democrats’ strategy was an abject failure.
The January 6 Gambit
Were the Dems convinced their singular anti-Trump posturing would work, or were they left with no other choice given the embarrassing approval numbers for their president and vice president/heir apparent? Well, after the results earlier this month, they had better hope they can actually run on their own record next time around.
But the $64,000 question is whether the policies of Donald Trump would in the end supersede his personality if he does decide to run again in 2024. That election will be profoundly different than 2020, with no sudden earth-shaking pandemic, and voters able to draw a head-to-head comparison between the actual records of Trump and Biden, or a successor Democrat who would be forced to defend Biden’s record. But the next presidential election will also be wildly different from the last one because of the greatest of unknown factors: January 6.
Without the events of that day, comparisons of the records of the 45th and 46th presidents would put Trump in a very strong position to shake off the unique historical circumstances of 2020 and succeed in a rematch. He will still be able to brag on the peace and prosperity of his time in the White House, his jumpstart and impressive stewardship of the economy, and many bold, iconoclastic initiatives in foreign policy. But the left will never allow Americans to forget for even a moment what happened on 1/6/21.
Trump loyalists and leftists alike are hardened in their beliefs about Trump in general and that fateful day in particular, but what about the remainder of the electorate who will be subjected to 24/7/365 images of the Capital Riot if Trump runs again? Well, Trumpists can take surprising encouragement from this year’s elections because, if the voters were already rejecting the singular anti-Trump screed of 2021, what makes Democrats believe voters will suddenly be up in arms about it three years from now?
Indeed, the outcome in blue Virginia, on top of New Jersey, Minneapolis and elsewhere suggests strongly that if they overplay their hand in the next presidential race as they did this year, and return to the singular message of Trump as Hitler, Democrats will see their worst nightmare come true – again – in 2024.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.