Glenn Youngkin during early voting in Fairfax. Photo: Glenn Youngkin

Why Democrats lost.

People want change. Biden isn't delivering.
Isaac Saul Nov 3, 2021

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

The results from the Virginia election, why Democrats lost, and some of the other races. Plus, a reader question about how I would vote.

Glen Youngkin during early voting in Fairfax. Photo: Glenn Youngkin
Glenn Youngkin during early voting in Fairfax. Photo: Glenn Youngkin

Quick hits

  1. Democrat Phil Murphy looks poised to win New Jersey's race for governor, defeating Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by less than one percentage point. (The prediction)
  2. The CDC recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 yesterday. (The ruling)
  3. Minneapolis voters rejected an amendment to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety by a 12-point margin. (The vote)
  4. Ohio Democrat Shontel Brown won the 11th District, filling the seat left open by Marcia Fudge (The results). Republican Mike Carey won the state's 15th District (The results). In Florida, the Democratic primary for an open House seat is headed for a recount. (The count)
  5. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a major gun rights case that could allow more Americans to carry firearms in public. (The case)

Today's topic.

Virginia. Last night, Glenn Youngkin (R) defeated Terry McAuliffe (D) in Virginia's highly-watched governor's race. With more than 95% of the vote tallied, Youngkin was leading McAuliffe by a full two percentage points. Jason Miyares, the Republican state delegate who ran on a tough-on-crime campaign, won the race for attorney general, becoming Virginia's first Cuban-American AG. Republican Winsome Sears won the race for Lt. Governor, becoming the first Black woman ever elected to a statewide post in Virginia. Sears's campaign focused on lowering taxes, supporting school choice and investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The sweeping wins for Virginian Republicans — paired with the nail-biter governor’s race in New Jersey — will likely have widespread implications for national politics. Democrats in Congress are already pointing the finger at members of their own party, with moderates warning that Americans are rejecting more progressive policy initiatives and progressives arguing that President Joe Biden needs to pass his infrastructure and reconciliation bills to win over voters. Meanwhile, Republicans are sensing newfound momentum heading into next year’s midterms, with education, Covid-19 regulations and policing as major wedge issues to run on.

“Candidates matter,” Glenn Youngkin's chief strategist Jeff Roe told the Associated Press. “We weren’t defined by Obama, we weren’t defined by Trump, we were defined by Glenn.”President Biden won Virginia in the 2020 presidential race by 10 points, but the Democratic party appears to have suffered a 12-point swing toward Youngkin over recent months. According to AP VoteCast, which polled over 2,600 voters for seven days and until the polls closed in Virginia, 35% of Virginia voters said the economy and jobs were the most important issues facing the state. 17% named Covid-19. 14% chose education.


The arguments.

In the wake of this election, pundits on the right and pundits on the left have already begun chiming in on how and why this election (and New Jersey's race) are playing out the way they are. This is normally where I'd summarize those arguments before giving you "my take," but they are largely the same arguments that were made a few days ago and that we covered in a previous newsletter. Roughly, the arguments amount to the right believing this was about education and disapproval for Biden while the left believes Youngkin is a closet-Trumper and can't fathom McAuliffe losing a state Biden won by 10 points just a year ago.

Rather than re-hashing those arguments, which haven't much changed in the days since (or after the results came in), I'm going to get straight to the point and tell you what I think.


My take.

If you want to see how easily politically-minded people attach themselves to narratives, you need look no further than Virginia.

The results from Virginia have barely marinated for 12 hours and everyone has their own stories to explain them — few of which I find particularly convincing.

Democrats are rightly horrified and now entering the circular firing squad phase of election post-mortems. If it wasn't clear before, it is crystal clear now: Their odds of holding onto majorities in the House are slim to none when they can barely eke out a victory in a New Jersey governor's race and they lose handily in Virginia. Progressives will blame the loss on a lack of action from moderates and the fact they haven’t yet passed any of Biden's agenda, nor did they "get help" to voters in Virginia who needed it. Moderates will blame the loss on progressives who focus too much on race and too little on issues, pushing Biden's presidency further to the left than many expected. Both will have valid points but neither will be totally right.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem hellbent on telling themselves this race was about education and "critical race theory." Trump supporters will say this race is a sign of the strength he'd have in 2024 even though Youngkin practically stiff-armed him to stay away from the race. Others on the right continue to tell stories out of Virginia that are often centered on furious parents at school board meetings purportedly outraged about what their kids are being taught about race in school. This, apparently, is something the right and left punditocracy agree on: White parents in Virginia are mad about what their kids are being taught. The right just thinks that anger is justified while the left believes it’s a product of white fragility (or a faux issue in the first place).

In reality, white parents saying "education" is a top issue are probably just as pissed off that their kids just spent a year at home in broken remote learning environments and are still jumping through Covid-19 protocols in school as they are angry that their kids are being taught race-centric lessons in school.

Here's what I think: These narratives are all tiny threads in a much broader political environment that was both predictable and obvious. Let's start at 30,000 feet and then focus in:

Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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