Features Australia

Lessons from Loudoun County

The Virginia election has taken an unusual turn

6 November 2021

9:00 AM

6 November 2021

9:00 AM

By the time you read this the result of Virginia’s gubernatorial election will be known. It is not known as I write this. Virginia is one of two US states with elections to governor this year. The winner will occupy the beautiful Thomas Jefferson-designed Capitol building in the state capital of Richmond. Virginia’s governors are term limited; one term and then you have to sit out the next contest, though you are free to try for another term after missing one. The Democrat in this year’s contest, Terry McAuliffe, is in just that situation. He is a former governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018. He is running again for the four-year term that begins at the start of next year. If you go back a few months ago or longer Mr McAuliffe was a prohibitive favourite to win. Virginia over the last decade or two has turned ‘blue’, the US expression for saying it’s become a Democratic state. It votes Democrat and it does so because of the huge spill-over of Washington D.C. bureaucrats who live in northern Virginia. They vote Republican with about the same vanishingly small frequency as Canberrans vote Liberal. So as the D.C. bureaucracy has mushroomed it has swung Virginia from the Republican column into the Democrat one. From 1968 to 2004 Virginia voted Republican for President. But in the last four Presidential elections it has voted Democrat. Many now consider it to be a safe Democrat State.

And hence polls taken under a month ago showed McAuliffe up by five points (about 51-46 if you ignore the undecided). Today, the polls have completely flipped. The Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, is up by five or more points. What has happened? Well, of course Joe Biden is now extremely unpopular. He has a lower approval rating at the moment than Donald Trump did at a similar time in his presidency, and without the massive levels of support that Trump had from his core or base supporters. Indeed, Biden may be running the most incompetent first year of any US President of at least the last 140 years. Buyers’ regret is patent and has crept even into Virginia. But that alone would not have put McAuliffe in such dire straits. No, what has put the Democrats in big, big trouble in Virginia can be summarised in two words. Loudoun County. That county’s school board has drunk the woke Kool-Aid. It implemented an ‘anyone can use any bathroom’ (we’d say toilet) policy for reasons related to ‘diversity and inclusion’. When a young 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted (probably raped) in a girls’ toilet by a boy, the school board seems to have hushed things up for fear of its toilet policy. Until the girl’s dad went ballistic. Then charges that the school board was also teaching critical race theory emerged. (This teaches students to think about the world in terms of racial groups, not individuals, and if your group is deemed historically guilty then all those in it today are too – it’s reductive Marxism then, but with racial groups instead of economic ones.) Former governor McAuliffe then made some stupid comments about how parents shouldn’t have a say in what their kids are taught. Havoc ensued. Rather than apologise he doubled-down. And bingo. Almost in real time you could measure the suburban mums shifting their support over to the Republican Glenn Youngkin, who has been an unrelenting culture warrior on this – attacking the school board and McAuliffe. Former president Obama entered the fray to prop up McAuliffe, suggesting this culture stuff was a storm in a teacup. Obama has had zero visible impact on the voters (as with every election where he was not on the ballot).

The internal polling for the Democrats must be dire. We can infer this because just four days out from the election it has come out that some Virginia Democrats dressed up as white supremacists and attended a Youngkin rally. This was done to bolster McAuliffe’s claim that Youngkin is a closet white supremacist and Trump supporter etc., despite Youngkin carefully keeping former president Trump away from his campaign. But the stunt was done incompetently. There were photos of the supposed white supremacists. One was identified as a financial director for the Young Virginia Democrats. He took down all of his social media profiles immediately. Then it seemed a second one was identified. And then the Lincoln Project admitted being behind the stunt. For those who don’t know ‘the Lincoln Project’ was formed by disaffected Republicans who wanted Trump to lose the last election. It still operates due to a fear of his political resurrection. These are Republicans with about the same connection to the party base and its views as Mr Turnbull has to the Liberal party. Their claimed reason for doing this stunt was ‘to illustrate a point that Youngkin has not denounced Trump’. It has backfired spectacularly.

Is there a lesson for Australia’s weak, insipid, emasculated conservative politicians? Yes. The culture wars are worth fighting! They can be won. Fighting for freedom in Florida during this pandemic has made Governor DeSantis there immensely popular. Meantime our Liberal MPs haven’t even summoned the will to criticise Dan Andrews, arguably the most despotic elected politician anywhere in the democratic world. We have had eight years of Coalition governments and the universities, where I work, are worse than they were eight years ago. More woke. More willing to worship at the altar of diversity and inclusion concerns. More grade inflation. Ever fewer conservative professors on campus.  (Here’s a good betting game: Bet when they disappear completely.) Or take the JCU/Ridd affair. I outlined my take on the High Court case a fortnight ago. But put yourself in the shoes of the JCU hierarchy. They got rid of Ridd. They sent a clear message to other academics. They, personally, aren’t out a penny. Yet there was nothing stopping a Coalition government from saying on day one of the Ridd affair that JCU would have its federal government research funding severely impacted if Ridd weren’t reinstated; if the Code of Conduct weren’t immediately redrafted; and if, yes, the V-C and the Board didn’t resign. That, of course, would be a Trump-like response.

Or take any other cultural issue going. Free speech? Nothing from eight years of the Coalition. The school curriculum, now that it’s stupidly been nationalised? Words, readers, only words. And this despite the truly woeful state of our high school results in this country. Well, the ABC then? You jest. Mr Morrison picked the top two people who have overseen the ABC’s treatment of Cardinal Pell; its discretionary decision to pay Louise Milligan’s legal costs; its attacks on Christian Porter; its continuing absence of a single conservative presenter or producer on the TV political affairs shows.

Update: Early results are in and it looks to be a big Youngkin win in a state Joe Biden took by 10 points only one year ago.

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