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For Democrats, Being ‘Anti-Trump’ Isn’t Enough

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

If anything, McCauliffe’s lashing of Trump’s endorsement probably backfired by reassuring Trump’s base that Youngkin was OK without scaring other voters away.

And with that comes a cautionary note for Democrats: Being anti-Trump is not enough, especially when Trump isn’t on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Youngkin, a former CEO of the Carlyle Group private equity fund with no prior experience in political office, stuck close to home and campaigned on issues of particular importance to Virginians: The economy, inflation, pandemic restrictions and the widely publicized hot-button issue of how much say parents can have in their children’s education.

That education issue has been covered mainly as a debate over “critical race theory,” a body of legal scholarship that is not taught officially in the state’s public schools. Yet the mere possibility that some CRT might somehow sneak into the classrooms through teacher diversity training or some other means still feeds arguments nationwide, including a recent wave of raucous and disrupted school board meetings.

In this CRT issue, which I call a distorted debate and McAuliffe called a “dog whistle” for racism, I can hear why Jones compared Youngkin to Trump. But dog whistle campaigns didn’t begin with Trump (Does anybody remember the 1988 “Willie Horton ads” against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis for his state’s weekend prison furlough program?) and, as much as I might wish otherwise, they aren’t likely to end now.

Besides, McAuliffe helped to cook his own goose with what may be the biggest political gaffe of the year, his declaration during a debate that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Predictably, you could almost hear McAuliffe’s poll numbers take a nose-dive every time Youngkin’s attack ads featuring that sound bite ran — and they ran a lot.

 

The lesson from Youngkin’s success with the CRT issue, promising to ban such teaching as some other states have with mostly Republican support, is what it says about the bigger question that parents and other voters are asking: “Are you listening to us?”

It’s a bit of a cliche to call off-year surprises like this a “wake-up call” to Washington Democrats, who’ve spent more time debating each other than getting things done for their voters. But cliches endure when they contain a hard nugget of truth.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2021 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2021 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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