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‘Trump Lite’ Wins in Virginia: What Does It Mean for the Dems’ Agenda?

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle is joined by guest Charles D. Ellison, a Philadelphia talk radio host, political commentator and activist, to talk about WTF happened in Virginia.

  • In a dramatic upset, GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin defeated longtime Democratic politico and former governor Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

  • Youngkin’s campaign focused on mobilizing white suburbanites against critical race theory, which he falsely claimed is taught in Virginia schools.

  • The Virginia race wasn’t the only loss for Dems this week. Republicans picked up seats in Pennsylvania courts, while the incumbent governor of super-blue New Jersey only narrowly won against his GOP rival. Does this herald a resurgence of Trumpism, and are the days of our current Democratic majority numbered?

As this off-year election season drew to a close, all eyes were on Virginia this week, where Glenn Youngkin, a political “outsider,” private-equity multimillionaire and friend/donor to Ted Cruzwon the gubernatorial race over former governor Terry McAuliffe, 50.9% to 48.4%.

Though polls suggested the race was tight, it was still a stunning defeat for McAuliffe, a former DNC chair and chair of both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns who sat in the Virginia governor’s mansion just four years ago.

Youngkin, who many are calling Trump lite (“he gives you all of the Trump ideology without all of the bluster,” says Danielle) is anti-choice, against gun-control legislation and personally opposes same-sex marriage. But the centerpiece of his campaign was education, which included opposing protections for transgender students and holding “Parents Matter” rallies to mobilize voters against critical race theory in schools. (It’s not part of the curriculum, and there’s little evidence it is taught in classrooms.)

“I’ve said for many years that so long as Republicans could find somebody that was a little bit more fine tuned, a little bit more strategic than Donald Trump, then 2020 would have looked a lot different than it did,” Danielle says.

“We’ve all seen better days,” adds this week’s guest on democracy-ish, Charles D. Ellison. Charles is a veteran political strategist, Philly native and host of the daily talk radio show Reality Check on WURD.

He thinks the loss in Virginia is a “public policy disaster for our communities” — and worse, an electoral disaster for Democrats with far-reaching implications as we head into 2022. What should liberals do to stem the oncoming red tide? Charles and Danielle have some ideas.

Episode Highlights –– The New Red Scare

Youngkin lacks the ‘Trump ooze’ but has a strong whiff of Jim Crow

Danielle asks Charles his thoughts on why, after a decade, Virginia flipped from blue to red.

“On WURD, I speak primarily to a Black audience,” he says. “People are in a real depressed, defeated state right now. But we saw the signs.”

Charles points out that Republicans are looking for candidates that are “a little less Trumpian cosmetically … someone a little bit more polished, a little bit more telegenic, younger — who didn’t give off that kind of Trump aura or Trump ooze. They had that in Glenn Youngkin.”

He doesn’t understand why Terry McAuliffe, who served as Virginia governor just before Ralph Northam (who currently holds the office), didn’t run on his “decent record.”

The Old Dominion is close to his heart. His mother’s family hails from Virginia; his grandmother fled the segregated south as part of the Great Migration.

“I always want to see things work out in Virginia,” Charles says. “Virginia has an electorate that’s over a quarter Black, and that Black electorate is the key to winning decisive elections.”

Charles thinks Glenn Youngkin ran on returning the state to the kind of place it was 50 or 60 years ago, “when they were just wrapping up legal Jim Crow in Virginia,” he says. “I was born at that time. I remember those stories.”

He wonders how McAuliffe missed the opportunity to “counteract and re-portray [Youngkin] as the Jim Crow candidate,” which would both “activate and motivate and energize that Black electorate” while providing a vision to move forward.

Dems are the Rebel Alliance, and that’s OK

“Democrats have to embrace the fact that they are the Black, brown, indigenous, Asian people’s party. They’re the BIPOC party. It’s okay. They are the coalition party. They’re the Rebel Alliance party.”

On the other hand, “if you’re a Republican, your job is easy,” he adds. “Because all you’ve got to do is worry about white people.”

He argues that Democrats have to be “a little bit more creative and innovative” in their outreach to nonwhite voters and that they should “stop hiring these very expensive white political strategists who are dismissive of the power of Black, brown, indigenous, but especially Black voters in key places like Virginia.”

Terry McAuliffe, he points out, hired and “overpaid” white campaign managers and political strategists. Democrats, at least in this election, “didn’t want to pay very seasoned Black political practitioners whom I know personally in the state of Virginia, who got the job done in 2017 and got Ralph Northam in that position right now.”

Black political operatives are the ones who call attention to untapped Black voters and do the on-the-ground organizing that’s necessary for turnout. “It’s like, we show them [white strategists] constantly. We’re constantly teaching them these lessons, and they ignore them when we come down to the wire.”

Danielle adds that in 2017, we also saw “what I always thought was the impossible happen in Alabama: A Democratic U.S. senator got elected in a state that is the most red of red states.”

That happened because “Black women rallied to the cause and said, We don’t want this pedophile representing us. We don’t want this racist representing us. And that was with the absence of money from the DNC.”

The hits (and misses) keep on coming in Pennsylvania

While the Virginia race made headlines, several crucial elections took place in Pennsylvania this week as well, for a number of seats on the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, and Commonwealth Court (Pennsylvania voters are asked every two years to vote for judges at every level of the court system).

This cycle, two Black women, both Democrats, ran for the Pennsylvania Superior and Commonwealth Courts. The latter, notes Charles, “was the only court in the country that voted for Trump when he was trying to reverse the 2020 Pennsylvania election results.”

And yet that wasn’t a talking point Democrats emphasized, at least not enough to prevent the GOP from winning both of those seats. Charles sees the judicial races in Pennsylvania as yet another missed opportunity, and perhaps one that would’ve been an easy win with the right resources.

“How do you mess that up?” he asks.

‘Red Scare’ tactics

Charles says the losses in Virginia and Pennsylvania suggest that Democrats, “especially white Democrats, want to be dismissive of the kind of electoral flex that we can offer them.”

He wants to make clear that he’s “not cheerleading for Democrats,” but he doesn’t “want the party that represents domestic terrorists getting any more foothold than they already have. And they’re the only alternative we have right now.”

Danielle agrees wholeheartedly.

“The fact is that Democrats are the BIPOC party, but instead of embracing that truth, instead of understanding that we have a demographic shift we all know is impending,” we’ve let Republicans use it to their advantage.

“They have used it as a fear tactic,” she adds. “This is the new Red Scare.”

From the late 1930s to the early 1950s, people like Senator Joseph McCarthy, President Truman and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI used “relentless tactics” to scare Americans into believing Communism was an imminent threat among the citizenry and they “needed to use undemocratic tactics to suss out those people, suss out those revolutionaries,” she explains. “This is what Republicans are doing right now.”

Scranton is the Dems’ dog whistle, but they need new tricks

Of course, instead of the (nonexistent) threat of Communism, the modern GOP has chosen critical race theory as its new Boogeyman, says Danielle.

“And before that, it was: We can’t take down Confederate statues, because that is our history. Then it was BLM and Antifa in 2020.”

None of this is new — “they give us the playbook,” she argues. “We see what they are doing.”

But time and time again, Democrats seem to spend an overwhelming share of their energy (and money) appealing to a certain segment of voters. Danielle notes that a few weeks ago, President Biden went to Scranton again — “which is Democrats’ dog whistle to say, Hey, working white class people, we see you as if they are the only working class.”

However, even a cursory look at the demographics reveals that the majority of working class Americans are Black and brown, and largely women.

“So how is it that we are still chasing after the latest polls, which show that 56% of non-college-educated white women voted for Youngkin?” Danielle asks. “Who did they vote for in 2020? Trump. Tell me why cable news and why all of these outlets and politicians continue to run after white women, when it’s the BIPOC community they should be investing in?”

The swing voter is a myth

The numbers bear that out: Dems “should absolutely be investing in” Black communities and other communities of color, says Charles. He uses his home state of Pennsylvania as an example, which has proven in the last few cycles to be a critical battleground state.

“It was the state that was decisive in Trump’s win, just like it was decisive in Biden’s win in 2020. But we saw hundreds of thousands of untapped Black voters.”

He cites an op-ed by Howard University business professor Karthik Balasubramanian — “one of the best pieces of 2020,” says Charles — that analyzes voter data from several critical states and argues that Black voters were largely ignored.

But it’s important to understand that “there is no such thing as a swing voter,” says Charles. “It’s just white voters — white voters who don’t like you.”

The hard truth: Some white voters will just never vote for a Black candidate, or a Democrat, or anyone who doesn’t look like them. Some white voters will dislike Democrats because, especially in certain areas of the country, there’s a “a heavy, influential Black presence in the party dictating the terms of the agenda,” he says.

‘Fear of a Black electorate’

Even in Democratic strongholds like New Jersey, where incumbent Phil Murphy just narrowly edged out GOP rival Jack Ciattarelli, white suburbanites are voting for Republicans in growing numbers (and voting against ballot measures to enhance voting rights). Charles points out that not only are we seeing the same trend in Pennsylvania and Virginia, but even New York state.

“Public Enemy used to say, ‘fear of a Black Planet.’ This is fear of a Black electorate — anytime we start seeing Black voters, especially flexing their political muscle.”

The only way to fight that fear is for Dems to stop chasing the “Karens” and start building real rapport with communities that will actually be receptive to their agenda.

A BIPOC-centric coalition would comprise “essential Black voters, essential brown voters — and you might have some Latinos who will probably go Republican — but for the most part, you’ve got that locked,” says Charles.

That’s to say nothing of other groups that tend to vote blue, like indigenous voters as well as Asian voters. (Charles points out the rise of South Asian voters in places like Georgia in 2020.) There will also be a number of white voters, “particularly younger, college-educated white voters, who are going to align with us,” he says.

“So let’s keep building on that, because demographically, that’s where we’re headed. That’s where we are as a country.”

Black turnout in Virginia was low, but white rage was in full force

Charles thinks the fear of a Black electorate creates a conundrum for Black voters, “because we do have a responsibility as a Black electorate to flex every time there is an election cycle. And there’s going to be an election cycle [somewhere] — state, local, federal — every six months.”

But in every cycle, “we make a mad dash to frantically get people to register to vote and to turn out to vote,” he says. “All of this should be rote. It should be just automatic, but it’s not.”

That’s because, as Charles observes, it “doesn’t seem like we’re getting the kind of mobilization support we need.”

Danielle argues that it’s because Democrats don’t put enough money in Black communities, and yet those same commu