Virginia’s gubernatorial race has become a referendum on Trumpist 'extremism': journalist

Virginia’s gubernatorial race has become a referendum on Trumpist 'extremism': journalist
Glenn Youngkin in January 2021, Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, November 2, voters in Virginia will decide whether their next governor will be Democrat Terry McAuliffe or Republican Glenn Youngkin — who has tried to appear moderate and downplay his Trumpist ideas without offending the MAGA crowd. It's a difficult needle to thread in a swing state, but it may work if Youngkin pulls off a narrow victory. Washington Post opinion writer E.J. Dionne discusses Youngkin in his October 20 column, arguing that the election will be a referendum on Trumpism.

"Republican Glenn Youngkin is engaged in a trial run of a strategy that might be called the Trump Hypocrisy Two-Step," Dionne explains. "If Youngkin succeeds, it will tell the GOP's politicians all over the nation that they can simultaneously embrace Donald Trump for the purpose of rallying the former president's base and playact moderation just well enough to win over the suburban swing voters they need to prevail. A Youngkin defeat, by contrast, will demonstrate that Trump is lethal with middle-of-the-road voters, precisely what fence-sitting Republicans need to hear."

Dionne adds, "Virginia's voters — especially moderate Republicans who want to build a better party and independents who want less polarized politics — need to send a message: Betting the future on the extremism Trump peddles and the lies he tells is a dangerous, ultimately doomed wager. The same signal must be sent about Youngkin's hope that railing against teaching 'critical race theory' in public schools is the ticket to victory."

One of the most cynical parts of Youngkin's gubernatorial campaign is his obsession with "critical race theory," a field of academic study that is taught in some colleges and universities. CRT, which contends that racism of the past affects institutions of the present, isn't being taught in public middle schools or high schools. But that fact hasn't prevented Youngkin and other Republicans from using it to scare White voters.

Dionne explains, "As Youngkin's Democratic opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe, told me in an interview on Wednesday, critical race theory has 'never been taught' in Virginia public schools, and 'it's not supposed to be taught.' Moreover, harping on critical race theory is an effort to rip apart parents on a serious issue that should be discussed calmly, thoughtfully and respectfully: How can schools offer students an accurate rendering of the American story?"

The Post columnist goes on to say, "McAuliffe is right that Youngkin's use of critical race theory is both a racial 'dog whistle' and antithetical to a reasoned discussion. Youngkin, McAuliffe argues, is 'stirring up parents, creating frictions where frictions should not exist.' Surely, Virginia's citizens don't want their state to become a showcase for the damage done when a Trumpist and right-wing minority is allowed to dominate the agenda at local school board meetings."

Like Arizona, Virginia was once deeply Republican but has evolved into a swing state. Democrats have carried Virginia is the United States' last four presidential election — 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020 — and Virginia has arguably become the most Democrat-friendly state in the South. But polls are showing Virginia's 2021 gubernatorial race to be quite close. A Monmouth University poll released on October 19 found the race to be a dead heat.

Dionne writes, "(McAuliffe's) energetic closing focus on Youngkin's ties to Trump is part of his effort to wake Democrats up. So is his attention to Youngkin's stands on abortion and vaccine mandates. McAuliffe's latest ad declares the election as being about nothing less than 'protecting our democracy.'"

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