Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia Governor’s race last week is a political thunderclap that should warn Democrats about their ideological overreach. But it may be more important as a template for how Republicans can win back the suburbs after their alienation from the GOP during the Trump Presidency.
Mr. Youngkin, a businessman and first-time candidate, defied the historical trend by winning a state that has been trending Democratic. The GOP hadn’t won a statewide Virginia race in more than a decade, and Mr. Biden beat Donald Trump by 10 points. The decisive swing vote had moved away from the GOP in the suburbs around Washington, D.C., Richmond and Virginia Beach.
Mr. Youngkin clawed back enough of that vote to defeat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and sweep the other two top statewide offices. He did so by focusing on quality-of-life issues such as education, public safety, and the cost of living. He didn’t shrink from disputes over culture and school curriculum, but he didn’t approach them as a zealot. He didn’t run a single immigration ad that we heard about, a contrast with the Trump era. He talked like a normal human being.
The Republican was helped because this time the zealotry was on the left. Mr. McAuliffe, a centrist when he was raising money for Bill and Hillary Clinton, indulged every obsession of the party’s dominant progressive wing. Keep schools closed, ignore parental objections to teaching critical race theory in schools, and call Mr. Youngkin a “Trumpkin” with sympathy for white supremacists. Mr. McAuliffe closed his campaign by appearing with Randi Weingarten, the teachers union chief who fought to keep schools closed. There’s a political mood killer.
Off-year races for Governor aren’t a predictor of 2022, but they should tell Democrats that they’re on a losing path. President Biden ran as a centrist who would unite the country, but he has governed by bowing to the left on nearly everything. He has pushed identity politics and radical spending programs when people care about the soaring price of gasoline. The President’s approval rating has tanked, as independents and even many Democrats have grown disillusioned.
The Democratic temptation will be to dismiss their thumping as a normal reaction against the party that controls Washington. Congressional leaders will make the case that they must now, more than ever, pass their $4 trillion tax and spending bill lest they demoralize their supporters going into 2022.
That’s easy for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say. She’s probably retiring anyway. But that strategy is volunteering 20 to 30 Democrats in swing suburban districts for political suicide. Virginia Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger are prime targets. Without Mr. Trump on the ballot, Democrats are less motivated to vote. Their agenda of record social spending and higher taxes has compromised, with inflation and supply shortages, what should be a booming recovery.
The smart strategy would be to drop the Bernie Sanders agenda, settle for the Senate infrastructure bill, and recalibrate to win some bipartisan victories. The Virginia defeat gives Mr. Biden the opening he needs to finally say no to the left. It may be the only way to salvage his Presidency. Senator Joe Manchin and the swing-district House Democrats would do their party a favor by withdrawing support for the Sanders-Pelosi entitlement blowout.
As for the GOP, the Youngkin strategy won’t be replicable everywhere. But it does show a path to regaining support in the suburbs that was lost under Mr. Trump. The GOP in the Trump years won a larger share of the vote in shrinking parts of the country, but a smaller share in the rising areas. Much of this was due to Mr. Trump’s persona and polarizing style that alienated college-educated voters and women.
Mr. Youngkin triangulated the Trump dilemma with skill. He didn’t attack the former President but he also didn’t invite him to campaign with him.
The message from Virginia is that voters don’t want the agenda of the progressive left, and they’ll listen to a Republican who forthrightly addresses problems they care about without being a jerk.