Education. Crime. The economy. Reforming state government. All of this mattered to Virginia voters and Youngkin did what Donald Trump failed to do in the 2020 election: construct a platform to meet those concerns.
Make America Boring Again by running on issues and refusing to chase the personal grievance of the day.
Democrats failed this test miserably. Terry McAuliffe, President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and every other Democratic luminary showed up to campaign for McAuliffe and make the same pitch: Youngkin is a White supremacist Trump clone and so is anyone who votes for him.
It was a lie from the start and voters simply weren’t buying. There was demand among the electorate—even among some moderate Democrats—for a candidacy based on issues rather than personality. Youngkin gave folks exactly what they wanted, while McAuliffe and company gave them junk food leftover from last year’s election buffet.
Republicans now have a blueprint for running in targeted races across the country, especially in states with large suburbs such as Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina, where key races will determine control of Congress in 2022. Issues like education, crime, and quality of life helped Youngkin far outkick his coverage in Northern Virginia’s deep-blue suburbs. It turns out that when candidates are responsive to what voters care about, people tend to like it.
In 2020, we found that the Republican brand — below Trump — was in pretty solid shape. The GOP far outperformed pundit expectations in the US House, leaving it just short of a majority and well-positioned to reclaim it in 2022. Democrats failed to win Senate races in Maine and North Carolina. And in statehouses across the country, Republicans swamped Democrats in gubernatorial and state legislative races.
In Virginia, Youngkin’s strategy was more like the non-Trump Republican success stories of 2020. He focused on his own brand and on issues that were top of mind for local voters, instead of on a Trump-centric or Trump-style campaign that relied on rotating grievances and personal pique.
Youngkin firmly rejected the January 6 Capitol riot and didn’t pre-judge the integrity of the election, although Trump played footsie with that message in some of his personal statements in the weeks leading up to Election Day. And it didn’t drive any Republicans away from his campaign, apparently, contrary to what Trump argued a few weeks ago when he said Republicans wouldn’t vote unless the GOP made election security its top (and only?) issue. Rural and suburban voters alike turned out for Youngkin and the entire Virginia ticket, which included an African American female lieutenant governor, a first for that office.
This is how Republicans win: continue to take advantage of the collapse of the Democratic Party in rural America. Recover the party’s mojo in the suburbs with bread-and-butter issues. And continue to recruit great candidates who look and sound like America, which is basically full of people who believe in America’s goodness versus what they see as a Democratic Party intent on running down what the country stands for.
Score one for a good guy, Youngkin, who struck a blow for a return to issues-based politics. The politics of Virginia —a blue state— demanded that he thread the needle and he did it. He kept Trump out and the issues in, and now the GOP has a big win to show for it.