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Virginia Gubernatorial Winner Encapsulates the Worst Elements of the Modern GOP

Everything about the race was awful, and establishment Democrats deserve plenty of blame for Glenn Youngkin’s win.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin passes an autographed basketball into the crowd with his family at his election night rally at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on November 2, 2021, in Chantilly, Virginia.

Another long Tuesday night in November, another eye-grit, over-caffeinated Wednesday to ponder What It All Means. Alas, last night meant the same thing it has for a horribly long time now, that which is not discussed but which moves the populace more than any ad or campaign speech: Almost everyone involved in the business of national politics, from the politicians to the “mainstream” pundits who follow them, are just awful.

Awful. Awful in ways that would make the hairs on your neck stand up and do the Surfin’ Bird if we all weren’t already so beaten down and accustomed to political campaigns and coverage pontooning their way to election night on rivers of pure shit. Last night was no exception, and Virginia — home of an electorate that changes its mind more often than newborns change their diapers — was center stage.

On one side was Democrat Terry McAuliffe, plucked from the ash pile of doomed Clintonite Democratic Leadership Council Third Way neoliberal retreads. At what point will this party actually run vibrant new candidates for these major offices? Governor of Virginia sits at the right hand of God if you listen to the screeching on television, and yet they ran a guy who already held the job once but was term-limited out, because Virginia law bars officeholders from serving consecutive terms.

Makes you wonder if that’s why the Virginia electorate votes like a flock of birds caught in a hail storm — over here, no over there, where, here! — but in any event, this was McAuliffe’s third run for the same office; he’s been at it since 2009. Before that, he was chair of the Democratic National Committee beginning in 2001, which means he hasn’t been a fresh face since your parents were still using a rotary phone. This is a habit the Democrats have to break. Remember when Paul Wellstone was killed in that plane crash in 2002? They replaced him on the ticket with Walter Mondale. I rest my case.

On the other side was Republican Glenn Youngkin, the corporate overlord who left the private sector in 2020 to become a half-Trump culture warrior from the sewers of Newsmax and Fox News. Youngkin amassed a nifty fortune during his business years, which is why he was able to hold Donald Trump at arm’s length during the campaign while embracing his vilest tactics. It’s those business years I’d like to take a minute with, because while I did not pay molecular attention to every nuance of this race, I’m pretty sure nobody in the media bothered to give much of a damn about the fact that Youngkin worked for the Carlyle Group for 25 years, finally retiring as co-CEO in 2020.

Unless my math has gone sideways, that puts Youngkin right in the middle of things during the heady days of the George W. Bush administration, which was staffed from top to bottom by Carlyle acolytes even as George Bush Sr. served as a Carlyle “adviser.” The Iraq and Afghanistan war profiteering by Carlyle was extreme — remember United Defense? — and helped boost the company’s holdings by many zeroes to the left of the decimal. When Bush Sr. finally retired from Carlyle, he went home to Kennebunkport with blood money practically fluttering out of his pockets. “A tidy gift,” I said at the time, “from son to father.”

Why does this matter? Only if history matters. In Glenn Youngkin, newly minted governor of Virginia, we have an amalgam of the worst elements of the modern Republican Party: a Trump devotee with just enough money to keep him from becoming another lickspittle, but who is just exactly shameless enough to run a brazenly racist Trump-style disinformation campaign with the help of right-wing media. Combine that with the quarter-century Youngkin spent cashing paychecks from one of the most notorious weapons-and-pipelines companies the world has ever seen, and then realize the Clinton/Democratic establishment encompassed all this and decided Terry McAuliffe was the answer.

Awful. Just awful.

Rounding out last night’s elongated fiasco were the TV “news people,” a school of hot-take pilot fish who couldn’t wait to blame the night’s events on progressives in Congress. Hours before the race was called, a polyp of CNN talking heads held forth. “Maybe the Democrats are learning they’re too liberal and need to slow down with this reconciliation bill,” said one. “Biden promised to make everything normal again and he hasn’t,” said another. A third — my personal favorite — chimed in with, “Youngkin has given Republicans a blueprint for how to talk to suburban voters about education.”

Some quick fact-checking for this box of rocks:

1. The main elements of the reconciliation bill are wildly popular with a broad swath of the electorate, including Republican voters. The only ones against it are the same corporate Democrats who thought McAuliffe was a wise choice.

2. When a majority of Republicans refuse to be vaccinated amidst a ravenous pandemic because they’re on board with the last president, who wants to screw the current president by any means necessary, “normal” is not going to be on the menu.

3. Youngkin’s “blueprint” — if translated into GOP campaigns across the country in the coming year — may well be the final dagger in the back of this republic. Youngkin presented himself as a goofy “aw-shucks” kind of guy. Meanwhile, his campaign capitalized on the fusillade of lies put forth by right-wing media about critical race theory, a body of scholarly work that has been twisted by conservatives into a rhetorical weapon meant to spare white children from having to encompass realities like slavery and racism. Youngkin’s team also made hay out of right-wing media lies about horrific books tormenting those same poor white students. (The book in question during the campaign was Beloved by Toni Morrison, one of the most important works of fiction concerning slavery ever written.)

If last night’s election “coverage” was a bellwether, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal better eat her Wheaties this week, because the corporate Democrats who have been snarling outside her door for months will be ready to use Virginia as an excuse to burn the reconciliation bill down to the stumps.

Fear not; Jayapal has proven herself equal to every task so far, and she has stout backup, because these progressives never learned how to roll over and beg. “[M]aybe,” tweeted Warren Gunnels, majority staff director for Sen. Bernie Sanders, “just maybe, the ‘debacle’ in Virginia could have been avoided if we had a Congress that listened to the overwhelming majority of Americans and passed progressive policies like paid family leave and expanding Medicare instead of bowing down to wealthy campaign contributors.”

Maybe if the Democrats had done whatever was necessary to end or modify the filibuster, they could have passed legislation to do all those things, and protect voting rights, and help the climate, and rebuild the country’s infrastructure… you know, all the things progressives have been trying to do all year.

This is just one more post-mortem on a day that will be flooded to the eyebrows with them. In the end, there’s exactly one truth I am willing to plant a flag on: The midterm elections are 365 days away, and things will change 365 times between now and then, and Donald Trump is still lurking out there like some dyspeptic shark in the shallows… if you think he’s going to be content going forward with being censored the way he was by the Youngkin campaign, you haven’t done the reading. He will make himself heard, and that will change everything again, and it will be awful. Just awful.

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