Let us reflect on the multiple ways that yesterday’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey were healthy for American democracy in general, and for Republican politics in particular.
One, we seem to have had generally clean elections. There were few if any intra-day controversies over “voter suppression.” There were victories for both Republicans and Democrats, and the results have mostly been accepted so far by the losing campaigns. Even notorious stolen-election conspiracy theorist Terry McAuliffe finally conceded this morning and did not go the Stacey Abrams route. As Jim Geraghty noted, McAuliffe’s loss in a Democrat-run state was painful enough and relatively close enough that it should put to bed the theory that Democrats steal the close ones. Of course, many of us are grumbling this morning about Phil Murphy pulling ahead in the dead of night after Jack Ciatarelli led him well past the midnight hour, but while that chronology taps into ancestral Republican fears about crooked big-city machines, it is also worth noting that if New Jersey Democrats were serious about stealing elections, state senate president Steve Sweeney would not have lost to a truck driver whose campaign spent $153 and consisted almost entirely of a Facebook page. That won’t stop the nuttiest people from claiming that this is all psyop to cover Democrat election-stealing, but it helps.
Two, we are reminded that money is not everything in politics. Maybe Murphy’s six-to-one advantage in outside spending helped him narrowly survive against Ciatarelli (the two campaigns themselves were more evenly matched), but it didn’t prevent the incumbent from fighting for his life. The defeat of Sweeney, the longest-serving legislative leader in New Jersey history, by a campaign with no money is particularly ironic, as Sweeney was himself an anti-“dark money” crusader who backed a bill to force nonprofits to disclose their donors. That law is now under revision pending a court challenge under AFPF v. Bonta.
Three, in terms of the general climate of “Flight 93” paranoia in some quarters of the Right about rigged elections, demographic change, and the fear that blue states are permanently lost — all of which were exacerbated by the belly-flop of the California recall election — it is a healthy development to see Republicans winning again in Virginia and competitive in New Jersey. Hardly any state Republican Party in the country needed a win as badly as the Virginia GOP. The party was split a decade ago between Northern Virginia moderates and liberals like Tom Davis and Bill Bolling against Tea Party conservatives like Ken Cuccinelli. The end result was Cuccinelli’s loss in 2013, the only time in modern Virginia history that the governor’s race was won by the party holding the White House. That turned out to be just a warm-up for the split between colorless party functionaries like Ed Gillespie, who lost two close statewide races, and right-wing loons like Corey Stewart, who got massacred. The California GOP could tell you about the dark things that happen to a state party that goes from being the 52–48 winners in a competitive state to the regular 60–40 losers. So, along came Glenn Youngkin, who proved (as Phil discusses) that a Republican could run as a sane adult with a mixture of conservative and moderate positions, but also have the guts to take on divisive culture-war battles and win. That victory will do an enormous amount to reorient the state party around winning elections and governing rather than venting primal screams. Moreover, the victories for Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares — a black woman and a Hispanic man — and the apparently strong showing by Republicans with Virginia Hispanics are all signs that the state party need not fear either demographic change or trumped-up accusations of being white supremacists. Finally, the win for Miyares over Mark Herring is healthy proof that Democrats cannot, in fact, just always get away with things (in Herring’s case, having worn blackface) that the media would crucify Republicans for doing.
Four, Democrats also got a lesson: They can’t live off Donald Trump, Charlottesville, and January 6 forever and use that as a shield against accountability in states they govern. McAuliffe tried that, and so did Murphy, and the voters didn’t care — or at least, a critical mass of them cared less than they cared about education, taxes, lockdowns, and other bread-and-butter issues.
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