Jakob Goodwin ‘23

If you’re unaware, there were elections nationwide this week. They presented the first opportunity for a referendum on President Biden and his agenda and they offered a chance for the people to see what the Republican Party has to offer in the post-Trump era. In two shock election results, Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin defeated former Governor Terry McCauliffe in a race for the VA Governorship and Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican, barely lost in an incredibly close race to defeat incumbent Governor Phil Murphy. These are the most shocking Republican showings of this election cycle, but the rest of the Virginia executive suite, another race in New Jersey, and elections in deep blue cities like Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Seattle are showing a changed political reality after 10 months of President Biden.

Just a year ago, Former President Trump lost the election for a second term in office by an electoral college score of 306 – 232, the same margin by which he defeated Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After months of questioning the result of an election and an insurrection at the Capitol, President Biden took office in January. After quickly passing another COVID relief bill to send another $1400 to Americans, President Biden’s agenda has faced its greatest enemy yet: the United States Congress. The House and Senate cannot seem to get on the same page on passing Biden’s infrastructure bill or his social spending package, which would focus on climate change, the Child Tax Credit, and increasing the IRS’ budget so they can go after rich tax dodgers. Progressives in the House want the spending package to be bigger and done first, but moderate Democrats in the Senate want the infrastructure package before they work on the Reconciliation package.

Political analysts speculated on the role that Congress’ inability to play nice with each other would have. Turns out, this logjam in passing Biden’s agenda played a major role in the elections this week. With no Democratic achievements to run on, Terry McCauliffe spent a significant portion of his campaign comparing Glenn Youngkin to F mr. President Trump. However, Governor-Elect Youngkin spent the last months and weeks of his campaign distancing himself from Trump and repackaging conservative social issues like critical race theory and school choice as simple issues of education rather than running on a brazen campaign of social issues. McCauliffe attacked Younkin on this issue, but made a (possible fatal) miscue when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” at a debate at the end of September.

Pundits spent Tuesday night speculating what led to Y oungkin to a victory. Some claimed that Democrats need to run more progressive candidates, others claimed that Democrats need to run more conservative candidates, and others said that this is just proof that suburban white women are closet racists who fell for Y oungkin’s tricks of using CRT to talk about race. Many blamed Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for stymieing Biden’s agenda. I want to point to the Y ounkin campaign and how they ran on these controversial issues. Turns out that Democrats cannot run on a campaign against Trump when Trump is not on the ticket.

Youngkin is going to have a statehouse that he can work with. Republicans took control of the VA House of Delegates by a margin of 52- 48. The VA Senate is held by Democrats 21-19, but one of those Democrats votes with Republicans often. With a new Republican Lieutenant Governor in Winsome Sear s, Youngkin has a real chance of enacting his agenda in Virginia.

We saw GOP success in another state that Biden won in 2020: New Jersey. Jack Ciattarelli narrowly lost to incumbent Phil Murphy. Ciattarelli ran a normal “old-GOP” campaign focused on tax cuts and cutting regulation. President Biden won New Jersey by 16 points. The fact that a Republican came even close to winning this race is an embarrassment for Dems nationwide.

In Buffalo, Democratic Socialist candidate India Walton lost to a writein campaign by four-term incumbent Byron Brown. In Minneapolis, a movement to remove the current police department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety failed. In other shocking news, a Republican won the race for City Attorney in Seattle.

The name of this piece is “Has the GOP Figured Out How to Win Post Trump?”. I don’t know about that, but if anything is clear from this week’s elections, it’s that if Democrats in Congress want to be in the majority in 2023, they need to find a way to work together to pass Biden’s agenda. The last time a Republican won the governorship in Virginia, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House of Representatives. Unless the Democrats want to see a Speaker McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader McConnell that would totally block any and all of the Biden agenda, they need to get it together.