Since the Civil War, Virginia has elected its governors in the year after the presidential election.
Like by-elections here in Australia, it is a big off-year electoral “test” of how the President’s party is doing after winning office.
What makes Virginia especially interesting is that it has become increasingly Democratic – and it has the capability of sending a sharp rebuke to the president’s party.
Barack Obama easily carried Virginia is 2008
- In 2009, one year into Barack Obama’s historic presidency, Virginia’s governor election went Republican – signaling trouble for Obama with a sluggish economic recovery from the Great Recession, and his signature health care reform – Obamacare – still months away from enactment. In 2010, Obama lost control the House of Representatives in a Republican wave that swept 63 Democrats from Congress.
Obama won Virginia again in 2012, and Hillary Clinton carried Virginia in 2016
- In 2017, one year into Donald Trump’s shock presidency, the Democratic candidate kept the governorship in that party’s hands. Ralph Northam succeeded the Democrat who won in 2013, Terry McAuliffe, a businessman and longtime associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. This lit a fuse that would ultimately lead to war between Democrats, who won 41 Republican seats to take control of the House in 2018, and Trump, who would be impeached twice for abuse of power and violations of his Constitutional oath of office.
Biden overwhelmed Trump in Virginia last year. The booming suburbs outside Washington, and strong Black and immigration communities through the state, have diversified the electorate and made Virginia less a conservative bastion.
Will Virginia’s election on Tuesday signal something as momentous as the messages sent to Obama in 2009 and Trump in 2017? Will Biden lose control of the House next year – ending his ability to pass any more major legislation?
Terry McAuliffe is back again, running to reclaim the governorship. His opponent is Glenn Youngkin, a multimillionaire venture capital titan, who has welcomed support from Donald Trump. Trump will call into a Youngkin rally later tonight, election eve.
Biden had these political stakes clearly in his sights in July, when he campaigned with McAuliffe:
I mean this, not just for Virginia, but for the country. The country is looking. These off-year elections, the country is looking. This is a big deal…
Look, in this election and in 2022, the question the American people are going to be asking is whether or not we’re helping them and their families — not giving them anything. Are we giving them a shot — just giving them an even shot? Do we understand what they’re going through? Can we deliver for them?
As Democrats, we have to show we do understand, and we’re delivering for them, and we’re keeping our promises. We just have to keep making the case — just as the Republican Party today offers nothing but fear, lies, and broken promises.
But everyone is watching Virginia’s election on Tuesday to see if instead this message will be sent to President Biden: You are not delivering. Your big social and climate and infrastructure bills have not passed.
After a promising start in the first 6 months of this year, the inability to get fully on top of the Delta surge and the economic uncertainty has triggered – slower growth, higher inflation, supply chain shortages, higher gas prices – may well mean Virginia voters are out of patience and do not trust Biden.
In the closing days of the campaign, McAuliffe has tried to wrap Trump around Youngkin – that Virginia is not Trump territory.
McAuliffe has also been begging Biden and the Democrats in Congress to break their deadlock, find consensus and pass the legislation – so that he can show Virginia that billions will come to the state and its households.
But votes to pass the bills will now come too late for McAuliffe.
One other issue has emerged to steal attention: education. Are Virginia’s schools being taken over by a radical Democratic ideology through the teaching of “critical race theory” and curricula infused with provocative novels like Toni Morrisons’s “Beloved”? Youngkin has made this political culture issue a hot button for suburban voters and independents whose swings can determine the outcome.
McAuliffe enjoyed a big lead over Youngkin until the Biden slump in August. Biden’s approval is now in the low 40s and his disapproval is at 50% or higher. The Democrats in Congress have also not passed anything on voting rights or police reform or gun control – and enthusiasm especially among Blacks appears to be waning.
McAuliffe has called in all the Democratic big guns to join him onstage: both Obamas, Kamala Harris, Jill Biden, Stacey Abrams and Keisha Lance Bottoms of Georgia – and Joe Biden again last week.
But McAuliffe’s polls are at best tied; several show him trailing.
Will the Virginia curse of 2009 and 2017 come back to bite Biden?
Try these post-election messages out:
- If McAuliffe loses: “Democrats! You damn fools! If you cannot govern you cannot win elections! How many times do we have to learn this lesson? You didn’t pass Obamacare early and lost the House in 2010. So let’s pass these bills! And nothing on voting rights! If you have any hope of holding the House, what the hell are you waiting for?”
- If McAuliffe wins: “My god, a miracle that we could win under such adversity – amazing and shows underlying Democratic strength. People want Biden to succeed – not Trump!”
- And if Republican Youngkin wins: “We nailed McAuliffe on the radical extremism that runs rife through the Democrats! And Biden is pathetic. His out-of-control socialist agenda is not what America wants. But it was Trump and his support for me who sealed the deal. Republicans: you want to take back Congress next hear and the presidency in 2024? Stick with Trump. In Trump We Trust.
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Trump’s campaign tactic – debase and disgrace the legal process
Donald Trump, former president of the United States, hated Arraignment Day I in Manhattan two months ago, the first time a former president had been criminally charged.
Trump was being forced against his will into a proceeding he had utter contempt for. He was being arrested and fingerprinted and photographed under an indictment under the jurisdiction of Manhattan in New York City for allegations of hush money payments and fraudulent bookkeeping practices to conceal criminal activity. Trump heard the charges read out against him and he entered a plea of not guilty.
Trump had a terrible day. Trump wore a scowl throughout. His countenance was fearsome. What Trump hated most about his arraignment in New York is that he had to sit at a table with his counsel side by side with him — equal to him — and with the judge above him looking down on him. Trump could not control the discussion and could not interrupt to make his points.
Trump was subordinate to the judge. He was subordinate to no one as president.
Arraignment Day II
Arraignment Day II in Miami will be worse from Trump, even more stressful. The charges are substantially more serious: the alleged violation of federal criminal statutes involving the alleged mishandling and illegal possession of classified documents, lying to legal authorities, and obstruction of justice. Potential penalties run to years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
Trump throughout his business life had always crafted his affairs to avoid being a defendant. But in his term in office, he was caught up in it big time. He was a defendant in two impeachment trials – again, unprecedented events – and left office in disgrace.
But Trump does not feel disgraced. He never does. Trump does not have a reverse gear. He never retreats. Never admits. Never concedes. Never yields. Trump is never embarrassed. Trump never feels ashamed. When something goes wrong, it is always the fault of someone else.
Bill Barr SLAMS his former boss:— Republicans against Trump (@RpsAgainstTrump) June 11, 2023
“He’s not a victim here. He was totally wrong that he had the right to have those documents. Those documents are among the most sensitive secrets that the country has…He had no right to maintain them and retain them”pic.twitter.com/VViNFpwbzt
And Trump never repents.
Trump can feel this way because Trump is waging war on behalf of his armies in “the final battle” for the future of the county. In his first, fiery post-indictment speech in Georgia, Trump said, “They’ve launched one witch hunt after another to try and stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people. In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you … “Either we have a Deep State, or we have a Democracy…Either the Deep State destroys America, or WE destroy the Deep State.”
It is a powerful formulation, and his true believers love it.
Hours later, In North Carolina, Trump mainlined his distilled message for the Republican crowd:
“We are a failing nation. We are a nation in decline. And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement.
It’s totally corrupt and we cannot let it happen.
.@RepDanGoldman: "Donald Trump believed the law does not apply to him, and that he would do anything he could to conceal and maintain possession of highly, highly classified national security information that would jeopardize our national security." https://t.co/IfX8bV4EVk pic.twitter.com/Gvjv8aNFkn— The Hill (@thehill) June 11, 2023
This is the final battle.
With you at my side we will demolish the Deep State.
We will expel the warmongers from our government.
We will drive out the globalists.
We will cast out the communists.
We will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.
We will roll out the fake news media.
We will defeat Joe Bide and we will liberate America from those villains once and for all.”
Any lesser mortal would be staggered by these events. Any other presidential candidate would be driven from the race. But not Trump.
Debase and disgrace
Trump is using the same playbook today as he successfully triggered after being charged in New York: debase and disgrace the legal process by terming it completely political. Trump said the federal indictment is “election interference at the highest level.”
Almost every other Republican running for president has adopted this line, insulating Trump from pressure to leave the field.
Trump’s chief opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said after these indictments: “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.”
Republican congressperson Nancy Mace: “This is a banana republic. I can’t believe this is happening.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: “Democrats are arresting their political enemies. and they work together in their corrupt ways to get it done.”
Trump is using his affliction to raise millions of dollars from his base.
Trump will likely face Arraignment Day III in Georgia in August. A state prosecutor is expected to charge Trump with criminal interference in the certification of Georgia’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
As of now, there is no sign of cracks in Trump’s support among Republican voters. There is no surge to another candidate. What remains to be seen is whether Republican voters, as they see Trump spend his days in courtrooms and his evenings at rallies around the country, reach a conclusion that this is a spectacle too far, too much to bear, and that they want to turn to another conservative populist who stands for them in the political trials— and not the criminal trials – of 2024.
Donald Trump’s legal woes will serve him well
It’s not often that a U.S. President faces federal indictment, but if it’s going to happen to anyone, it might as well be Donald Trump first.
The news that Donald Trump is facing a federal investigation over the removal of secret documents from the White House in 2021 came as no surprise.
Keen watches of the Washington soap opera have seen this playbook before, albeit in a different form.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a Washington outsider. But as seriously damaged as he may be (thanks to the events of January 6), his support base has only grown whenever he faces scrutiny.
For his supporters, his legal woes mirror their own relationship with the government – a giant, unfair beast that picks and chooses its fights.
Trump is accused of storing sensitive documents—including those concerning matters of national security—in boxes, some even in a shower.
The documents were seized last August when investigators from the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago.
The Department of Justice has historically avoided charging people who are running for public office. Whether they should do that is a debate for another day. But it’s happening now. And it’s making it all too easy for Trump to claim there is a concerted campaign to get him away from the White House.
Trump exposed the deep state. IF they exist, they probably don’t want him back in power. Whether they exist doesn’t matter really, because plenty of Trump’s supporters agree with him, and believe the secret state is working against them. Call it QAnon, call it a conspiracy – it doesn’t matter in a democracy.
The DoJ now has to go all in. Failing to secure a conviction would be a serious embarrassment for the department.
This is the second time Trump has been indicted in recent months, yet the opinion polls show he only increases his popularity among MAGA and Republican voters. It leaves the Republican party in a difficult position. Support their leading candidate or support the law?
As other Republicans rallied around the embattled candidate, Trump held on to his loyal base of supporters.
For the Democrats, and for Biden, another reality will soon sink in – if Trump becomes President, and they lose office next year, how will a Trump-run DoJ deal with them?
Broadly, the tit-for-tat one-up-manship of U.S. politics is breaking tradition and potentially breaking the country.
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