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Lesson from Virginia election: Education can be winning issue for Republicans

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) speaks during an Early Vote rally October 19, 2021 in Stafford, Virginia. Youngkin is running against former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA).
Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) speaks during an Early Vote rally October 19, 2021 in Stafford, Virginia. Youngkin is running against former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA). | Getty Images/Win McNamee

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

That was the message parents in Virginia got from former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was seeking a comeback, in the 2021 gubernatorial election.

As it turns out, parents thought otherwise.

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That’s a major takeaway in Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin’s victory this week over McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race.

Youngkin’s victory is remarkable, given the increasingly leftward tilt of the commonwealth over the past decade. Not only did Republicans take back the governorship, lieutenant governor’s seat, and attorney general’s office, but it also appears they will regain control of Virginia’s House of Delegates.

After a decade-long blue slide, Virginia is suddenly up for grabs again.

There’s certainly a lot to unpack from not only the Virginia governor’s race but from elections all over the commonwealth and the rest of the country. One takeaway is that President Joe Biden is deeply unpopular, as are his policies in general.

This is an administration that has been beset by disaster after disaster of Biden’s own making. Questions about the president’s general competence are likely gnawing even among the Democratic faithful. No doubt Biden’s struggles hurt his party nationwide.

But the elections aren’t just about the president. The most stunning aspect of the Virginia governor’s race was the role that education played in swinging the election toward the Republican candidate.

Rarely do education policy or local school board elections become the primary focus of politics, but it’s hard to argue otherwise, given the results of Tuesday’s elections.

In an excellent article in The Wall Street Journal, education policy experts Max Eden and Brad Wilcox explained how Youngkin’s victory makes the GOP the “parents’ party.”

Eden and Wilcox laid out how the far-left insistence on promoting critical race theory and similar ideologies in classrooms, combined with a lack of public transparency, fueled the Republican surge.

“Virginia’s ‘red shift’ on education could be part of a broader trend,” Eden and Wilcox wrote. “A majority of Republicans 18 to 55 are parents (61%), whereas only a minority of Democrats are (45%), according to a recent YouGov poll for the Institute for Family Studies/Wheatley Institution.”

It also clearly didn’t help that the Democrats’ message on the issue vacillated from “critical race theory isn’t real” to “keep quiet, progressive insiders know what’s best for your child,” and by the way, opposition to “nonexistent” critical race theory is “racist.”

Immediate postelection analysis from left-wing media doesn’t suggest Democrats are going to change their tune on that message, though there have been a few dissenting voices sounding the alarm.

CNN commentator Van Jones said, “Democrats are coming across as annoying and offensive and out-of-touch.”

Van Jones: “Democrats are coming across as annoying and offensive and out-of-touch. I think there is a message here.”

Anderson Cooper. “It seems annoying to a lot of people”

— Michael Shellenberger (@ShellenbergerMD) November 3, 2021

Most on the left, however, confirmed to themselves that they aren’t out of touch; rather, it’s the people who are wrong.

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, a former Republican operative, said of the Democratic catastrophe, “Critical race theory, which isn’t real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump insurrection-endorsed Republican.”

This is INSANE.

MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: "Critical Race Theory, which isn’t real, turned the suburbs 15 points to the Trump insurrection endorsed Republican."

— (@townhallcom) November 3, 2021

Can Democrats really abandon this issue? Their media allies have promoted a nonstop narrative for years that the country needs a “racial reckoning.”  Read the latest in The New York Times and The Washington Post, or tune into National Public Radio, and you will hear stories about systemic racism and white privilege, the essential buzzwords of critical race theory.

For the most part, America’s education establishment has been all aboard this message, too, bringing The New York Times’ 1619 Project and ideology linked to critical race theory to classrooms around the country. The effort has never really been about teaching accurate history, but instead has been aimed at social and cultural transformation in the name of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

In practice, that’s meant abolishing accelerated learning programs, woke math that has little to do with actually teaching math, and lesson plans that teach children they are either inherently oppressors or oppressed, based on their race.

The media drove radical wokeness. Democrats can hardly get off that bus now. From the Biden administration on down, it’s their guiding ethos; that is, cultural transformation above all else.

It turns out that the way to stem that tide is to confront Democrats on these cultural issues and to expose the radicalism that is being engineered behind closed doors on your children.

Education is the primary battleground of this fight because it pits the left-wing institutional machine against parents and democracy. No longer can radical social transformation stay on track behind closed doors. It’s now an open question.

One big takeaway from Tuesday’s elections in Virginia and elsewhere is that parents have awakened to the danger and are filled with a terrible resolve.

Originally published at The Daily Signal

Jarrett Stepman is a contributor to The Daily Signal and co-host of The Right Side of History podcast. He is also the author of the book The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America's Past.

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