The name on every Republican's lips is currently “Youngkin." Virginia's next governor, Glenn Youngkin made a scandal out of critical race theory and that was just the start for the GOP, who see his upset victory last week as the road map to electoral success across the nation.

Last week, Newsweek said the Virginia governor's race was "widely viewed as a test of whether the Republican party's campaign against issues like critical race theory in schools would prove a sound strategy heading into the 2022 midterm elections." Of course, “critical race theory" isn't taught in public schools, but how can you expect journalists to know this? Fact-checking is hard. Repeating GOP talking points is much simpler. There's no “critical race theory" in Toni Morrison's Beloved, for instance, because slavery is not theoretical. It happened.

However, Democrats can't run and hide from “critical race theory," as it is an actual field of study. If it's effectively demonized, the GOP will use it against any non-conservative teacher and judicial nominee: "Are you now or have you ever been in a class that taught critical race theory?"


But in the near term, Republicans are happy to leverage their new Satanic panic, especially if they can hide it behind seemingly benign red-baiters. Columnist Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, presumably while wearing a 1940s fedora with a press card tucked in the hatband, "The ink was still wet on Wednesday's front pages as a bevy of new candidates planned announcements or weighed their options in the high-stakes races for the open seats of departing Gov. Wolf and Sen. Pat Toomey." You see, Republicans see “blood in the water" after their (somewhat predictable) off-year election performance.

But the big dilemma for the Grand Old Party remains the same as it was before last week's results: Will Democrats currently struggling to stay afloat in the red-stained midterm ocean get attacked by a couple of great white sharks, or a posse of clownfish?

Presumably, Youngkin is the “great white shark" in this scenario. Bunch describes him as a "good-looking and sane-sounding multi-millionaire businessman." Youngkin was able to offer racist dog whistles about education without Donald Trump's superficial grossness that white voters find embarrassing. The media has mostly conceded these craven tactics as effective politics rather than calling them out as overt racism. Racist appeals to suburban white parents have a clear history dating back to white backlash over integration. It's not that hard to Google.

The Pennsylvania GOP governor's primary is crowded with Trump nuts, but apparently businessman Dave White is aiming for the Youngkin track. He launched a "Less Talk, More Action" listening tour on Saturday and is already dropping the populism:

WHITE: Together we can put this Commonwealth back on the right track — the day when the working men and women, parents, seniors, veterans, teachers, doctors, farmers — the blue-collar workers and the white collar workers, this is the day we all stand up and demand results.

But he hits all the right notes on the dog whistle: MORE funding for police, so they won't have to fight crime with water pistols while clad in tattered rags. He's gonna defund public schools, though, so students will have more choices! He'll also ensure parents have “increased involvement" over their children's curriculum. He supports MORE freedom, not the piddly little reduced-for-quick-sale freedom Democrats offer. He's gonna magically lower gas prices, protect the lives of people who can't speak for themselves (i.e. support abortion bans), and restore faith in our electoral process (i.e. help Trump steal the next election). Republicans are getting better at putting a pleasant veneer on the same old conservative dog crap, and that's a problem. Suburban white ladies, many of whom voted for Biden, are gonna eat this up.

The GOP would prefer a Youngkin candidate in the 2022 Senate race. Trump already endorsed Sean Parnell, whose estranged wife accused him of domestic violence. Parnell has already lost a race against potential Democratic Senate candidate Conor Lamb, which is not the best experience.

Republicans would reportedly prefer Wall Street CEO David McCormick. Bunch describes McCormick as “Glenn Youngkin on steroids," and that's definitely a turn of phrase people used in the 1990s.

BUNCH: He's such a perfect-on-paper Republican candidate that it almost seems as if he was invented just for the purpose of running in this election. A war hero and West Point grad with a Bronze Star (from the first Gulf War) just like Parnell's, McCormick is a wrestling and football product of public high school in upstate Bloomsburg who still owns a farm there.

Democrats have run war heroes but Republicans just piss on their service and still call them radical liberals. However, there's some good news: Dr. Mehmet Oz, popularly known as just “Dr. Oz" or that guy who's really bad at medicine, is considering entering the Republican Senate primary. Fingers crossed. Democrats could use a break.

[Philadelphia Inquirer]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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