Virginia’s Lessons For Conservatives

Glenn Youngkin, governor-elect of Virginia, speaks to members of the media outside the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.
Carlos Bernate/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The results of Virginia’s 2021 election were no earthquake. Glenn Youngkin, the newly elected Republican Governor, squeaked home by the narrowest of margins. The swing from blue to red was a modest 5 percent.

Yet 2021 could turn out to be one of the America’s most significant elections for a generation.

Virginia offers the conservative movement a map back to electoral success — if they have the good sense to follow it.

It is easy when living in a state like Mississippi to assume that the Republican party is well entrenched. The reality across much of America, however, is that the conservative movement which dominated American politics in Ronald Reagan’s day has suffered defeat and retreat ever since.

The last time that a Republican candidate won a popular majority in a US Presidential election, for example, was back in 2004. Republican candidates have only managed to win the popular vote in two of the past nine Presidential elections.

It is not just that Republican candidates have not done poorly. Even more ominously, not every Republican candidate has been …. how might I put this delicately? …. conservative.

Over the past couple of decades, states like Virginia, which at one time tended to lean conservative, appeared to have shifted decisively to the left. Until this election.

Despite having failed to win a state-wide election for twelve years, conservative candidates in Virginia were elected not only to the gubernatorial post, but as Lt. Governor and Attorney General, too.

The Virginia result was a victory for school choice conservatism. With parents denied any real power in the public education system, moms and dads in Virginia felt anxious about some of the things their kids were being taught – such as Critical Race Theory.

Youngkin repeatedly made the issue of whether parents should be allowed a say in their child’s education the center piece in his campaign. Youngkin also calmly but firmly insisted that Critical Race Theory is wrong.

It turns out that giving people school choice is wildly popular and that millions of ordinary Americans are not that keen on having their kids indoctrinated into believing that their country is intrinsically racist either.

Here in Mississippi, we recently published a report on Critical Race Theory in our state. It shows how conservatives might offer something similar here, too.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Virginia result was the record support that the conservative side got from both Hispanic and African America voters. Opposing a divisive anti-American ideology has broad appeal. Again, conservatives in the Magnolia State and beyond should take note.

One final observation about Virginia: The conservative side in the election did something that too often conservatives are loathe to do; they tried to understand and listen to their audience before trying to persuade them.

Too many of those that work in public policy presume that arguments that excite them appeal to everyone else. They don’t. In order to win in Virginia, conservative strategists used messages and messengers that resonated with the folk they needed to win over.

Instead of school choice, they talked about school freedom. Instead of attacking obstructive teacher unions, they made it clear that they wanted a better deal for teachers — if not necessarily union bosses.

It takes more than a bumper sticker to win over hearts and minds. A new conservative movement that understands this, while offering real school freedom and an alternative to Critical Race Theory, could be unstoppable.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

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