The first post-Trump Republican

When Glenn Youngkin clinched the Republican primary in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, he was a blast from the past: a throwback to the sort of establishment GOP types that predominated before 2016. By defeating Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and painting the state red, he has offered a vision of the future, a blueprint for GOP success in the Biden era. It also makes him the first post-Trump Republican.

Contrary to the core message of the McAuliffe campaign, Youngkin is not “Trumpkin.” And Virginia’s voters could see that for themselves. The governor-elect’s early-hours victory speech last night was a far cry from the tenor of the MAGA Republicans who have set the running in recent years. But nor was he anti-Trump. The former president just doesn’t appear to have mattered all that much to voters.

Youngkin won by making a large dent in Democratic margins of victory in the suburbs while running up huge numbers in Virginia’s rural counties. In other words, he escaped the catch-22 that plagued so many Trump-era Republicans, outperforming the former president in areas where he turned out the base whilst winning back suburbanites for whom Trump was a turnoff.

That feat is just one of the reasons Youngkin’s victory is the most significant Republican triumph since 2016. Another is the roadmap it provides for 2022. Education shot up the agenda during the campaign, with Youngkin capitalizing on frustration at school closures during the pandemic, anger at the cover up of a sexual assault case in a Loudoun County school and a backlash against the way American history and race is taught in the classroom. All of this amounts to a battle between teachers and parents over who controls America’s education system. Youngkin sided with parents and won.

Other Republicans will now try to do the same next year. But Youngkin’s campaign was about more than education: he hammered McAuliffe over prospective tax rises, capitalized on frustration over rising prices, emphasized law and order, took a stand against masks in classrooms and vaccine mandates and made the most of the current president’s unpopularity.

Where does this leave Trump? He was quick to claim credit for victory last night. Yet discounting this inevitable self-promotion, the Virginia result leaves the former president diminished. He may remain the most influential Republican in America. But when the most useful thing the former president can do to help his party win in a purplish state like Virginia is keep shtum, it’s hard to see how Trump 2024 would be anything other than an act of electoral self-harm on the part of the Republican party.

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A shellacking

When Biden spoke to Democratic lawmakers before heading to Europe last week, he said, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.” Well, the House and the Senate have yet to pass either of his twin spending bills, and last night’s disastrous results have turned a bad week into a catastrophic one.

This is the worst-case scenario for Democrats. Even New Jersey is a nail-biter. Just a year ago, Biden carried the state by 16 points. A win for Republican Joe Ciattarelli would be a gobsmacking rebuke of the president and his party. That it is anything like this close is bad enough.

The progressive left also faced a direct rebuke from the electorate last night. In Buffalo, India Walton, the socialist Democratic candidate, was defeated by Byron Brown, the incumbent she beat in the primary who triumphed as a write-in. In Minneapolis, voters rejected a ballot proposal to replace the city’s police force with a “department for public safety.” On New York’s Long Island, Republicans have swept local races in response to the state’s bail reform law.

The question already on the lips of Democrats of all stripes is: what went wrong? Too liberal? Too woke? Too unpopular a president? Too dismissive of rising prices? Too pro-lockdown? How about all of the above? As the blame game intensifies, attention returns to the Hill, where the party’s factions will doubtless claim that last night’s election only strengthens the case for their preferred policy’s inclusion in the spending package.

The shellacking could focus minds and get Biden’s legislative agenda over the line — or it could harden divisions, splinter party unity, put the reconciliation bill out of reach and sink the president into further failure. Behind these considerations lurks a bigger question about what, and who, the Democratic party is for.

Party-animal Adams

There was no better party last night than the one thrown by Eric Adams, the maybe vegan, maybe New Jersey resident who doesn’t know how to park but will be the next mayor of New York City.

After thanking supporters and campaign staff at his victory event at an unremarkable Marriott in Brooklyn, Adams was whisked to the exclusive NoHo club Zero Bond, where members include Tom Brady and Kim Kardashian. The mayor-elect was greeted by a star-studded guest list, with Chris Rock, Eric Schmidt, Forest Whittaker and Ja Rule all there to shake his hand.

Meanwhile, back at the Marriott, the campaign rank-and-file were stuck with an underwhelming and over-priced cash bar. Hardly a man-of-the-people move from Adams. New York’s new mayor remains something of an enigma: a bizarro figure with eccentric habits and an evident taste for the finer things in life. We’ll soon find out if Adams can fix the city’s problems. But, for now, at least there’s one Democrat in America having a good time.

What you should be reading today

Matt Purple: The McAuliffe clown car crashes

Amber Athey: Youngkin wins Virginia in wild upset

Mary Kissel: Joe Biden is making the world a more dangerous place

Luke ThompsonWashington Examiner: Psaki bomb

John Cochrane, the Grumpy Economist: Woke week

Charles CookeNational Review: Kill the bill

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 43.0 percent
Disapprove: 51.1 percent
Net approval: -8.1 (RCP Average)

Candidate support among Virginia voters who said that education was their most important issue
Glenn Youngkin: 55 percent
Terry McAuliffe: 44 percent (CBS exit poll)

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