Of all the clowns to come prancing out of the Terry McAuliffe campaign car in recent weeks, it was the Muppets that finally got me. McAuliffe recently ran a get-out-the-vote commercial that featured several Sesame Street-style puppets singing about how much they love the people in their neighborhood. “Except for Larry who doesn’t vote,” they finish, upon which some poor schlub comes bumbling in and they all stare at him judgmentally.
Next up: Snuffleupagus on why he’s passionately in favor of rolling back voter ID laws. Or something. The ad technically wasn’t cooked up by Team McAuliffe; it appears to have been created in 2018 by the left-leaning PAC Priorities USA. But the fact that they decided to dust it off despite it being so creepy and coercive speaks volumes. Put simply, the McAuliffe campaign has been weird. Really weird. That weirdness helped enable McAuliffe’s downfall on Tuesday at the hands of Republican Glenn Youngkin.
And it just couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
To keep track of all the gaffes McAuliffe and company ran up in recent months is to run out of fingers and start in on toes. There was his infamous remark that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” There was his subsequent attempt at damage control when he gushed about how he’d raised his five children in the wonderful Virginia education system — except that four of them had gone to private schools.
There was Joe Biden’s bizarre statement at a McAuliffe campaign rally that extremism can come “in a smile and a fleece vest,” a reference to Youngkin’s (rather normal) clothing choices. There was the even more bizarre fundraising email from longtime Democratic operative James Carville that barked “I hate guys like Glenn Youngkin” in part because Youngkin used to work at a “private equity firm” (as opposed to Carville’s far nobler history of maligning Bill Clinton’s accusers). And, of course, there was the scheme, delegated to the geniuses over at the Lincoln Project, to tag the Youngkin campaign bus with fake white supremacists, one of whom for some reason was black.
So to recap, here are all the constituencies that McAuliffe managed to offend in just over a month: parents, first-time voters, finance guys, people who get cold in the fall, white people, people of color, anyone whose intelligence gets insulted by lying. Possibly that left one or two childless, racially fluid, moronic hyperthermiacs in Arlington for them to court. But for everyone else, McAuliffe has come off mostly like that Tom and Jerry GIF where the cat can’t stop upending a pair of rakes into his own face.
This speaks to more than just the Macker’s big mouth. The Democrats are now the party of privilege. They wield immense celebrity and great institutional power. Yet they also have ceased to be progressives or liberals so much as a small clique of obsessives who fret about bizarre and boutique causes. In their world, gender must exist on a spectrum, children must be indoctrinated against whiteness, and racists must lurk behind every fire hydrant — even if that last claim needs a little manufactured help.
McAuliffe himself doesn’t especially espouse this stuff, but he does lurk at its margins. He also buys in to another elite tenet: that politics is war, that anything goes in the fight against the other side. Hence the endless and obvious lies. Except it turns out the voters have priorities other than battling imaginary Klansmen. They’re worried about inflation and classroom radicalism, both of which Democrats say aren’t real problems. They want more than just another hymnal of ritual Trump denunciations and scorched earth against perceived enemies.
Which is about all McAuliffe ever had. This campaign has been another reminder of that Sahara-sized gap between the priorities of American elites and those they claim to represent. By embodying the sheer weirdness of the former, by trying even to stigmatize what so many consider to be common sense on matters like critical race theory, McAuliffe threw open the door to Youngkin. And while I’m not in the habit of lavishing praise upon millionaires, full credit to Youngkin for barging on through.
On paper, Youngkin’s challenge was immense. Virginia hasn’t had a Republican governor since Bob McDonnell left office in 2014; it hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since George W. Bush in 2004. And the cultural gap between Virginia’s suburban progressive north and Appalachian conservative southwest is arguably the widest within any single state (a friend suggests Washington, Seattle to Spokane, but I’d maintain the Old Dominion’s is even larger).
For Youngkin, this translated into a divide over a single personality, Donald Trump. He somehow had to unite the moderate and monied Trump-skeptical Republicans and independents of Northern Virginia with the MAGA sorts downstate. He pulled this off not because he supposedly abandoned economic issues for cultural ones, as plenty of broken records on Twitter have suggested, but because he appealed to voters where it mattered. Inflation? He would repeal Virginia’s idiotic grocery tax. Education? He would increase both funding and school choice while calling out the Loudoun ludicrousness.
He pulled it off brilliantly. “Sportsmen for Youngkin,” blared a highway billboard I saw last weekend not far from the West Virginia border; not bad for a millionaire who owns a horse farm. Still, it is possible that Youngkin left some conservative points on the field. Here’s what I would have done: run a commercial identical to the McAuliffe one, except at the end Larry pulls out a magnum and blows all the Muppets away. Then: “Hi, I’m voting for Glenn Youngkin. Let me explain to you why Glenn’s support for gun rights is so important…”