The GOP Sweeps the Elections, but the Battle Has Just Begun

by James A. Bacon

Having swept the statewide offices and recaptured a majority in the House of Delegates, the Republicans are back in power in Richmond. At last Virginians have a chance to correct the follies and excesses of the Northam administration.

Republicans should enjoy the moment and bask in their victory. The post-election high will last until Jan. 15 when Governor Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears, and the newly elected delegates take their oaths of office. By Jan. 16, to paraphrase B.B. King, the thrill will be gone. Democrats may have lost the election, but they have not surrendered.

Let’s recapitulate a few facts. While the election did vault the GOP back into power, it did so by narrow margins. Youngkin won with 50.7% of the vote. That is a slim majority, not a mandate. Miyaris and Sears won by nearly identical margins. Meanwhile, the Republicans will govern the House with a narrow 52- to 48-seat majority, while Democrats will retain a tenuous control of the state Senate.

Virginia is not Texas. Virginia’s electorate still leans blue. Republicans won because Democrats over-reached: ramping up spending, stiffing taxpayers, rushing toward a zero-carbon electric grid, and, most importantly, imposing a social-justice agenda on schools and the criminal justice system. Objectively speaking, Democratic rule has coincided with higher taxes, a spike in violent crime, COVID fatigue and a collapse of Standards of Learning test scores. Youngkin campaigned against that record, and Virginians voted against that record.

The task of Republicans over the next four years will be to unwind the legacy of Governor Ralph Northam, who campaigned as a moderate but sought redemption from his blackface humiliation by embracing the social-justice movement. There is no mandate, however, to begin banning abortion or rolling back restrictions on guns. Cultural conservatives will have to be content with making incremental gains on those hot-button issues or risk a backlash to their backlash.

Not only does Virginia’s electorate still tilt blue, so do the media, advocacy and lawfare groups, and cultural institutions that do so much to shape public opinion and frame the issues. The liberal media monopoly did crack this year, as I shall explore in a future post, but establishment media such as the Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginian-Pilot and Virginia Public Media remain a potent force. Likewise, the election does nothing to reverse the reality that left-leaning foundation- and endowment-funded advocacy groups remain formidable adversaries to Republican goals.

Expunging “Critical Race Theory” from Virginia schools, as Youngkin has vowed to do, will be easier said than done. Democrats are correct to say that critical race theory (CRT), defined as an academic theory, is not taught in Virginia schools. Well, they are mostly correct; CRT actually has been taught in a few high schools. CRT is short-hand used to describe policies that are derived from the academic theory and applied to the real world under the rubric of “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “social emotional learning,” “culturally responsive learning” and other anodyne terms. CRT stands for a body of thought that says Virginia’s schools, colleges, and universities are “systemically racist,” that the system was designed by Whites for Whites, that Whites are oppressors and Blacks are victims, that the way to correct for past racism is “anti-racism” or reverse racism, that children need teachers who “look like them” to learn, that statistical disparities between racial-ethnic groups are proof of injustice, and that equal group outcomes is the highest goal.

Youngkin cannot wave a magic wand “banning” CRT. Northam never issued an executive order enshrining “Critical Race Theory” as official policy. Rather he and his appointees fostered a body of thought inspired by Critical Race Theory and spent the better part of four years fashioning and pushing policies through the ponderous bureaucratic machinery of Virginia’s education system. While the Virginia Department of Education spearheaded the “anti-racist” movement, the movement had many eager acolytes at the local level. Expunging CRT-influence policies from public schools will require a painstaking review of curricula, teacher and staff training, and policy guidelines — with a recognition that Virginia’s system of governance allows local school boards significant autonomy, and that school boards in deep-blue localities may remain committed to their social-justice agendas.

As he endeavors to root out policies based on “equity,” or equal group outcomes, Youngkin can count on the dogged opposition of Democrats, who insist that “critical race theory” is a conservative bogeyman; a teachers union that has been empowered in some localities with collective bargaining; Virginia’s teacher colleges, which have explicitly adopted social activism as a core mission; and a deeply rooted organizational culture in the educational establishment. To reverse what Northam had wrought, Youngkin will need to make changes to state law, overcome bureaucratic inertia, and fend off the inevitable legal challenges to everything he proposes.

Fixing Virginia’s schools cannot be done on “day one” with a few breezily issued proclamations. It will entail trench warfare, fighting over every scrap of ground for the next four years. Youngkin needs to gird his loins and prepare for a long, protracted battle. The good news is that Virginia will replace a governor who poured fuel on the fire with a governor determined to put out the fire.