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Bill Straub: Playing the cultural wedge to advantage, Republican Party has become White people’s party

It’s difficult, no, impossible, to extrapolate the results from this week’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey and determine how things will play out politically in the near future.

That said, it certainly seems like with the former oaf-in -chief, one Donald J. Trump, relegated to the sidelines, at least for the time being, Republican voters suddenly feel free to come home and enthusiastically support the party’s candidates again – even if many are simply clones of the Orange Ogre.

It’s not good news for Democrats, who are hanging on to bare majorities in the House and Senate and face a major challenge in maintaining support from White suburbanites, a voting sector they have carefully cultivated. Warning signs actually flashed in November 2020 when Trump was voted out but Republicans made significant gains in the lower chamber.

What looms ahead on the political front seems particularly ugly. The GOP, which has employed cultural wedge issues to its advantage since the hoary days of Richard M. Nixon’s southern strategy, are prepping to go full-tilt boogie on the racist dog whistles this time, warning White folks that their children are being taught in school to hate them and that they stand to lose their country if they fail to vote the right way.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Democrats will have to develop some strategy to counter the surge but they are currently distracted by dissension in the ranks. A lot of them are understandably upset with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa, and Sen. Kristin Sinema, D-AZ, blaming them for the party’s disturbing Election Day showing.

The pair of nominal Democrats has, indeed, stalled action on President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending package, since reduced, that would have provided enough goodies, at least in the minds of party stalwarts, to send a grateful public to the polls pulling the Democratic lever.

Instead the proposal is gathering mildew and the Democrats took a stomping from Republicans, losing the governor’s office in Virginia while barely surviving a similar fate in New Jersey. Biden looks weak, his approval rating is down in the low forties, and despondent party members appear disinterested.

Maybe Democrats could have performed better with momentum from the spending package, but probably not. That assessment ignores the dynamics of modern American elections where the first rule is culture tops policy. That’s how it played out in Virginia.

There are always any number of factors that go into electoral wins or losses. This was an off-year election, after all, and on those occasions the party that controls the White House traditionally faces a tough prospect. The out-party is more motivated and circumstances point toward voters looking to even things out. This year in particular people are frustrated with COVID-19 restrictions and Election Day provides an opportunity to take those frustrations out on someone.

But this instance seems more jarring. White people voted in record numbers to elect Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, defeating former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat credited with a successful administration during his time in Richmond, forced out 2017 only because Virginia limits gubernatorial terms to a single four years.

Youngkin provided voters with very little regarding the policies he intends to pursue in the state capital, instead ceaselessly yapping about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, an African-American woman from Lorain, OH, titled “Beloved,’’ which is confined to AP English classes. Neither of those issues have much to do with elementary or secondary education but they managed to push the sort of cultural issues about race that send White folks rushing to the polls.

Most folks don’t know what CRT is and it isn’t particularly easy to explain. As best as I can tell, it is a legal and academic examination of the way the nation’s laws impact on race, centered on the idea that the cards are subtly stacked against Black folks.

Youngkin has vowed to kick CRT out of the Old Dominion’s schools.

“Critical race theory has moved into our school system and we have to remove it,” he told Fox News on Aug. 5.

That should be a fairly simple task since CRT has never been taught in Virginia schools. It was a ploy, used to raise the specter that White children in their scholastic experience might be presented with the idea that African-Americans haven’t gotten a fair shake and that White folks hold responsibility.

Now that seems pretty elementary. And obvious. Students have essentially been taught White history in the nation’s classrooms from time immemorial and told it was, well, history. Now that Blacks are gaining some influence in society some of the historic details are emerging and making their way into the curriculum.

It’s not Critical Race Theory. But it is the truth.

Regardless, White folks have expressed concern that their children will be disturbed by some revelations and would just as soon let bygones be bygones. So any discussion about race in the classroom – if not there, where? – is equated in many people’s minds to CRT and that drove them to the polls. It didn’t help his cause that McAuliffe never offered a reasonable rationale and, for some reason during a televised debate, blurted that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” But by that time the movement toward Youngkin was well underway.

Forever aggrieved White voters devoured the CRT condemnation for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Turnout proved to be the highest for a gubernatorial election since 1997. Exit polls showed that 74 percent of voters were White, compared to 67 percent in 2020. Of White women without college degrees, 75 percent went for Youngkin.

Virginia Democrats, and analysts, were mistaken that Virginia has turned solid blue in recent years. Biden won the state last year by 10 points over the incumbent Republican, now former President Donald J. Trump. A lot of Republicans and a slew of independents voted against Trump because they found him, understandably, to be the one most disgusting individual ever to sit his butt behind the Resolute Desk in the White House. The mistake was thinking their political leanings had changed. They didn’t adore Biden. They just couldn’t stomach the prospect of four more years of Trump.

Even with all those considerations, Trump received 77 million votes in 2020, the second largest total in American history, behind only Biden.

Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who jilted Trump supported many of the initiatives he championed – a tax cut and border wall construction being among them. But they couldn’t stomach him. Afforded the opportunity to vote for Trump without the baggage, they hopped aboard the Youngkin bandwagon.

Meanwhile Democratic turnout in Virginia proved to be good but not great, with Black turnout taking a slight dip, a factor that seems to loom larger since White turnout was so overwhelming. It appears from early estimates that fewer Black women – the backbone of the Democratic Party – cast ballots than they did during the presidential year of 2020, 86 percent to 92 percent last year. Black male voters remained fairly steady.

While Black men and women constitute about 19 percent of the state’s total population, they accounted for only 16 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Another rule – in order to repeat last year’s success in Georgia, Blacks elsewhere must turn out in substantial numbers.

That’s not going to happen in a lot of places, including Kentucky, where the Black population is below the national average and they make up a relatively small percentage of the vote.

That’s because, for all intents and purposes, the Republican Party has become the White people’s party.

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One Comment

  1. Richard says:

    Have you heard of Winsome Sears? She is an African American republican and is the Lt. Governor elect in the commonwealth of Virginia. BTW, she is the first female and the first woman of color in the office in the commonwealth’s 400-year legislative history. Virginia also elected Jason Miyares as its first ever Hispanic attorney general. He is also a republican.

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