TERRY McAULIFFE IS LOSING TO THE NARRATIVE

This is bad news:
Republican Glenn Youngkin has moved ahead of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race, less than a week before the election.

McAuliffe receives 45 percent to Youngkin’s 53 percent in a new Fox News survey of Virginia likely voters. Youngkin’s eight-point advantage is outside the poll’s margin of sampling error.

That’s a big shift from two weeks ago, when McAuliffe was ahead by five, 51-46 percent.
Yes, it's a Fox News poll, "under the joint direction of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company (R)." Fox is awful, but Fox polls aren't part of the channel's propaganda -- FiveThirtyEight gives Fox/Beacon/Shaw an A rating and says it actually has a Democratic lean of 1.8 points. (Its late-October poll of the 2020 presidential race had Joe Biden up by 8, overestimating Biden's eventual win of the popular vote by 4.5.)

Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report doubts the race will be an 8-point Youngkin win, but reminds us that these things happen in Virginia governor's races, which always take place the year after the presidential race.


To me this feels like Scott Brown in 2010 all over again -- a state seen as solid blue despite its history of electing Republicans (Virginia was purple until very recently; Massachusetts is much bluer but elects Republican governors more often than it elects Democrats). In both races, Democrats were in denial about the effect of a long, highly public struggle over a major piece of legislation on the popularity of the president and his party. In both cases, the conventional wisdom for most of the race was the Republican is doing surprisingly well, but he can't possibly win, until he burst into the lead. In both cases, Republicans and Fox News treated the race like a zeitgeist-changing presidential contest. In both cases, Republicans said to one another, If we win this one, we crush the libs -- Brown's campaign website featured the slogan "Red Invades Blue" -- while the swing voters who gravitated to both Republicans appeared to ignore the voices of the most feral and ideological Republicans, while identifying the GOP candidate himself as a genial moderate.

If McAuliffe loses, analysts will identify specific mistakes he made, particularly the moement when he said, "I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." (No one would question him if he said something like this about brain surgeons or airline pilots, but school curricula are seen as a job for amateurs, I guess.)

We'll also be told that McAuliffe tried too hard to tie Youngkin to Donald Trump. That might be a mistake. But McAuliffe has done this because he's stuck within our dominant political narrative.

According to this narrative -- which is sustained and regularly reinforced by the mainstream press and most Democratic politicians -- Trump is a civilization-threatening monster, but the Republican Party aside from Trump is a group of well-meaning public servants who can be trusted with power even though we might not agree with them on every issue. The press reinforces this message whenever it demands bipartisanship of Democrats (but not Republicans), and when it fixates on the objections of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to popular proposals in the Biden agenda without ever asking Republicans why they uniformly oppose those proposals.

Over the years, right-wing media and Republican politicians have carefully cultivated a grotesque caricature of every Democrat: supportive of reckless spending, believers in gender anarchy and unpatrolled borders, sustainers of an unaffordable welfare state, believers in showy displays of concern for minorities and the environment, irrationally fearful of guns, haters of America and lovers of socialism ... you know the drill. Republican candidates don't have to work hard to persuade their voters that they shouldn't even consider voting for a Democrat -- in their narrative, a generic Democrat is one of history's greatest monsters.

In the narrative of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, a generic Republican is ... a potential governing partner and a person who'd be reasonable if he weren't trying to please that awful Trump fellow. Glenn Youngkin resembles that stereotype, so how does Terry McAuliffe run against him as a person who might ban all abortions, champion draconian voter suppression laws, blockade attempts to address climate change, attack the LGBT community, increase the flow of guns, and make the rich richer and the poor poorer -- even though that's the agenda he's likely to pursue if he becomes governor?

Democrats need to start pushing back against the negative stereotype of their party while working hard to build a negative stereotype of the other guys. For the most part, they just have to base their work on facts -- Democratic policies really are popular, and Republicans really are awful. But they don't even try, and here we are.

*****

ALSO: Democrats need to take the "Kick Me" sign off their own backs -- when they're not begging Republicans to cooperate with them, they're begging members of their own caucus, very publicly. Deal with intraparty disputes privately -- every moment of triumph by right-wing Democrats this year has made the party look weak. And Democrats need some swagger. Presidents Clinton and Obama could summon it even after a defeat. If President Biden can't, Democrats need to find someone who can. Republicans have swagger even in their worst moments.