It’s pretty clear that Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media had as much to do with Glenn Youngkin’s deceitful electoral victory as he did. The need for Dems to effectively deal with the propaganda couldn't be more urgent.
There are surely many reasons Terry McAuliffe lost the Virginia gubernatorial race to Glenn Youngkin Tuesday night. But a big one is the role right-wing media played in ginning up white racial outrage over “critical race theory.” Media Matters has a good explanation of the symbiosis of right-wing astroturf activists and the right-wing media:
As Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo, who helped launch the campaign, has explained, the goal is to “put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category” so that people “read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’” Other right-wing institutions and groups, like the Heritage Foundation, joined in the fray with events, activist toolkits, model legislation, and pushes for bans made in concert with lawmakers.
From there, advocacy groups use this think tank framework to generate local outrage against critical race theory. According to an NBC News analysis, there are now “at least 165 local and national groups that aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender,” and several of the most prominent ones are headed by Republican activists and strategists. These groups cram local controversies into the CRT framework established by Rufo and others, disrupt school board meetings, and place spokespeople in media appearances -- sometimes professional spokespeople, who are instead described as local parents.
The noise and attention from these professionally operated, think tank-inspired groups then generates coverage from an obsequious and obsessive right-wing media, champing at the bit for any angle that will hurt Democrats and help Republicans.
Before any election results were known on Tuesday, Greg Sargent wrote an excellent column about how Youngkin poisonously exploited this dynamic. Sargent also warned Democrats they'd better find a way to counter it, win or lose. He wrote, “For months, Youngkin and his allies have pumped that raw right-wing sewage directly into the minds of the GOP base, behind the backs of moderate swing voters, via a right-wing media network that has no rival on the Democratic side.”
What Sargent meant is that while Youngkin used CRT in swing areas of Virginia, he and his allies spread vicious lies about it in right-wing media, where moderate swing voters probably don’t hang out. Sargent cited as one example the Youngkin lie that McAuliffe got the Justice Department to silence Virginia parents. Youngkin’s claim, made on Fox News and a right-wing radio station, was rated “Pants on Fire” by Politifact. The truth, PolitiFact noted, is that Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the DOJ to work with local governments to address ‘a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence’ against school board members and educators.”
Or, as Sargent put it, “Cheerful suburban dad Youngkin is siding with the mob.” While pretending to be the victim, I’ll add.
“In contrast to countless Fox segments on CRT, Democrats rely on more conventional news outlets to reach their voters,” Sargent said. In other words, Democrats do not have any comparable way to use the media to their advantage. Sargent doesn’t go into it but the powerful, closed right-wing media ecosystem at best limits Democrats’ ability to reach those conservative viewers, listeners and readers at all.
Something that has long frustrated me is how little progress Democrats have made in countering right-wing propaganda. The Outfoxed documentary (for which I served as a researcher) about Fox News propaganda was released to great acclaim and attention in 2004, yet the situation has only gotten worse in the 17 years since.
Sargent would seem to agree with me. He wrote that if Democrats lost in Virginia, one of the many areas of focus they should consider is “this communications imbalance.” He wrote, “The dark truth is it’s gotten worse, and as Virginia shows, it’s helping put Democratic gains in real peril.”
I hate to say it but I think the peril is way worse than that. The right-wing promotion of the Big Lie about the 2020 election put democracy itself under assault on January 6th - only to be followed by revisionist history casting the insurrectionists as patriots. Now, with the attacks on vaccines and face masks (while practicing those same public health measures off camera), our very lives are endangered, too. And you can best believe that the right-wing media will be even more emboldened now that Youngkin has won.
Democrats, it’s Code Red time.
(Carlson/Youngkin image via screen grab)
2 1/2 years ago, I asked the chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Northern California about what PP’s strategy would be for when the Supreme Court drastically limited or overruled Roe and Casey. This was at the time that Kavanaugh was just finishing his first term and Ginsburg was still alive. Her response was that PP was opening some more clinics in California and was looking into setting up some funds to help women in Red States travel to CA for services should it come to that. That was an insufficient answer then and it is even more of one now.
This past weekend, I repeated the question to her, noting that we now have a 6-3 Hard Right majority on the SC, with 5 of the 6 being Far Far Right partisan idealogues. I noted that the Dobbs case is almost certain to either be a 6-3 gutting of Roe, or a 5-3-1 total toss of Roe and Casey, with Roberts offering a separate dissent in the name of stare decisis. I noted her earlier response and asked what her update was. I suggested that perhaps Dems needed to show up to vote for their state legislatures and for Congress in much greater numbers. She agreed with that as a principle. The rest of her strategy was to say that women under 48 years old have never lived in a situation where Roe did not exist and thus may be in for an unpleasant surprise very shortly when 26 states enforce extreme bans on their reproductive rights. She also said that she figured that angry Right Wingers would somehow suddenly lose their motivating issue after they get Roe tossed. (She was ignoring the fact that angry Right Wingers will just keep going – they’ll move the goalposts to criminal penalties, to “personhood”, to banning contraception, and on and on.)
My point is that her approach, which is sadly typical, was to hope for the best. Hope that a few more clinics in California and a bake sale would counter the real problems facing millions of women across the Midwest and South. Hope that maybe Right Wingers will suddenly decide to pack up rather than continue to press their advantages. (As we saw with the Pence White House, they weren’t satisfied with their squeaker win – they spent the next four years trying to push everyone’s nose into the dirt as hard as they could.). Hope that maybe the general public will suddenly “get it” after the bans really kick in – not thinking that most people will likely turn to bootleg pill services. I’d like to believe in those hopes for the best. But we have to live in the real world at some point.
Working for the election of candidates to lower offices and state houses and Congressional seats is a long, slow process. And even after we eventually see progress in who winds up in these seats, changing state laws and getting national legislation passed to correct all these extreme Right Wing moves in voting rights, reproductive rights, marriage equality, etc, will take decades. I’m honestly concerned that most Dems are not that invested in the long haul. As we’ve seen, angry Right Wingers are very much invested in the long haul – and it’s paying off for them.
But she said, and I quote from the transcript, “What it did do was it gave them a straw man and it gave them a boogeyman that they could take to other areas of the Commonwealth and have something to run against. … [D]on’t you not like this issue that we were manufacturing [in Loudon County] and that we’re going to have, create outreach over to make sure that you’re really mad about because even though the people in Loudon county didn’t agree with our assessment on this, we still think that other people in other areas are going to see the news coverage of it.”
McAuliffe clearly lost in the suburbs and rural areas because he didn’t make a convincing enough case there – and because angry Right Wing voters came out in numbers close to last year, while Dem voters came out in slightly softer numbers. As noted, there were over 3 million votes cast and the margin here was still very slim – 80K out of 3 million. And that’s typical of Virginia. Had a few more Dem voters participated like their lives depended on it, as they did in 2020, McAuliffe would have won. Yes, more Dems did show up than in 2017 – but the GOP voters came in like 2020 and the Dems need to do the same if they wish to win.
I note the closeness of this election to make the point that this was not a blowout victory for the GOP – it was yet another squeaker where their voter turnout was a little better than the Dems. Youngkin does not have a mandate. He just has a slim margin. But typical of angry Right Wingers, I anticipate he’ll pull a Pence and immediately start ripping up every policy of the Northam years – and we’ll see COVID cases shoot up and other situations deteriorate. And in 4 years, Dems will need to come to the polls in better numbers if they want to clean up the mess.
Democratic turnout was quite high in Virginia. I think McAuliffe lost on his own:
From The NY Times:
In this week’s election, Mr. McAuliffe won 200,000 votes more than Northam did when he won the 2017 election in a blowout. He won nearly 600,000 more votes than he did in 2013 when he beat Kenneth Cuccinelli II to become governor. He beat his internal turnout targets in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Norfolk area. Turnout was strong in Black precincts, college towns and the suburbs, all traditional areas of strength for Democratic candidates.
Yet Mr. Youngkin still got more votes, buoyed by turnout near presidential-election levels across rural Virginia and better than anticipated numbers in the outer suburbs of Washington. He won far more votes than Mr. McAuliffe’s team or virtually any of the public polling had anticipated.
The number of voters actually showing up has been growing, but the margin remains the same – within 100K, and usually within 80K. Which tells us that the person who gets a few more people to show up and vote is the one who will win. Youngkin did not win a landslide or anything spectacular here. He won because a tiny percentage more of Virginians showed up to support him – which means that enough Dems stayed home to allow this to happen.
And this is the lesson that the Dems continue to fail to learn. They must ALWAYS show up to vote. They do not dare take any election for granted. Because angry Right Wingers REALLY DO ALWAYS SHOW UP. And if Dems stay home, it means that the angry Right Winger will prevail. As just happened once again.