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Purging the Clintonites

With McAuliffe's defeat, the Democratic Party has finally cleared the Clintons from its system. Will it seek fresh wind?
Hillary Clinton Addresses Virginia Democratic Party's Annual Jefferson-Jackson Party Dinner

The worst bout of food poisoning I ever had took days to run its course, as every orifice did its duty to rid my body of whatever evil I had ingested. That brings us to the Clintons and Virginia.

The defeat of the Democratic party in Virginia in general and Terry McAuliffe for governor in the specific could finally be the end of the Clintons and a chance for the Democratic Party to rescue itself from the self-destructive path it is on. It could heal and become a righteous challenger to Republicans. Or it might just eat another chili dog and puke through the midterms.

Of all the things Terry McAuliffe is—mediocre former governor, race-monger, liar, visa fraudster, investment scammer—he is also the last bit of Clintonite pollution the body politic needed to expel to allow healing to begin.

McAuliffe was co-chairman of Bill’s 1996 campaign, Clinton-installed chair of the Democratic National Committee 2001-2005, and chair of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary leveraged their then-popularity to help McAuliffe win the Virginia governorship as payback. In 2013, Bill did a nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary raised money for him in California. As Virginia’s governor, McAuliffe was a campaign surrogate for Hillary 2016. McAuliffe had never held public office and wasn’t even from Virginia but the job was up for grabs in a state trending blue and the Clinton’s turned on the money spigot.

Bill Clinton, disgraced as he is, actually still held fundraisers for McAuliffe in 2021, albeit in New York, not Virginia, an early clue to how things would end. Terry nurtured the relationship at every opportunity and got ahead, a reminder of the transactional politics the Clintons thrived on. Compare his political run with fellow Clinton sycophant Andrew Cuomo. After the departure of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros under a cloud of FBI investigation at the end of Bill’s first term, Cuomo took over as Secretary of HUD. You know the rest of the story. Of all the faithful, McAuliffe is the last vestigial limb of what once was a Democratic dynasty.

To understand what the end of that dynasty means, one has to understand the damage the Clintons did to their own party. It was in part Hillary’s willingness to stay silent that allowed Bill to escape being removed from office for perjury and overall conduct unbecoming. Hillary got her pound of flesh, a walk-on coronation as a New York senator (it was Terry McAuliffe who in 1999 personally guaranteed the mortgage on the New York home the Clintons bought so Hillary could claim residency), which would be her springboard to the White House. She consistently voted with the political winds of the day for wars, free from any morality.

When Barack Obama whooped Hillary in 2008, she took SecState as an obvious consolation prize alongside a fairly certain promise she would be the Democratic candidate when Obama retired (sorry, Joe, tonight ain’t your night, kid.) She taught a generation of women and girls to have no self-respect, no honor, take whatever your man deals out with over-done smiles and understated pearls, and have nothing but appetite.

Hillary’s destruction of the Democratic party continued with the political castration of Bernie Sanders. Love him or hate him, Sanders represented what is likely to be the last true set of original ideas presented by a mainstream candidate. The Democratic party’s willingness to destroy Sanders to press Hillary into the nomination left a whole generation of Sanders supporters, the youths which should be today coming into their own as the party base, bitter, disenfranchised, and lost, chasing political memes of the day—this week climate, next week transwoman athletes’ rights, maybe then safe spaces for vegan cookies in schools.

Hillary casually threw away rural voters, once a Democratic mainstay, practically demanding they vote for her opponent after she dismissed them as deplorables. She welcomed silly social justice into the party thinking she was building herself a new base. She made the Democrats wholly dependent on the notoriously unreliable black vote. And then Hillary lost to Donald Trump.

What happened next was a void in Democratic leadership. The party went insane, with Nancy Pelosi and her crowd becoming serially addicted to impeachment and a collection of political curiosities like AOC and the Squad elevated to some sort of odd status (be very loud but accomplish nothing) by the media. It was clear no one was in charge.

Democratic election strategy became a carnival game of try and dunk Trump. Mueller threw a few balls, until the game broke down into a free for all featuring a quasi-coup attempt over a phone call to the Ukrainian president and graphic descriptions of Trump’s genitals by Stormy Daniels. It all ended absurdly with Trump being impeached as president after he left office for inciting an insurrection that didn’t happen.

In the background, the Democratic party imploded searching for its next nominee, with people like Beto the Clueless Cowboy headlining for a few weeks, then a local mayor who got some tailwind out of being gay, and whatever Andrew Yang was supposed to be. That no one was in charge post-Clintons was finally made clear when the system coughed up a crash test dummy like Joe Biden as the best it could manage and then limped into office thanks to Covid fear and media fealty.

That scenario won’t happen twice. White women in Virginia recorded a 15 point voting swing to the GOP in the gubernatorial election compared to the 2020 presidential. The setbacks in heavily suburban blue Virginia suggest a backlash to the whining about race and identity championed by Democrats. These voters are not white supremacists and to label them as such is to dismiss a parent’s rightful desire to see their child get the best possible education. The Dems campaigned on visible contempt for the people in calling them haters and racists needing to have their children saved. Dems went too far and lost Virginia. It wasn’t about Trump, it was about them.

The Democrats have a chance to try again. McAuliffe’s defeat frees them from the last of the Clinton influence, an empowering marker that it is safe to finally leave Bill and Hillary behind. McAuliffe’s defeat, based on social justice issues like trans-everything and racism-everything losing to common sense, can be equally empowering, freeing the party from having to listen to people like the Squad ever again.

Nobody wants to see Biden run for a second term, and Democrats know there is equally little support for Kamala Harris (reminder to all, she is still officially listed as vice president). The Dems, finally, have a chance to find a real candidate. A first sign they see the light might be turning to jobs, Covid, inflation, and the supply chain, indicating they do understand there are voters outside Brooklyn and the Bay Area who care deeply about things other than climate change.

Call it centrist if you like, though realist is a better word. If all the Dems have going into the midterms is some renamed schoolhouses and recycled anti-Trump rhetoric (Van Jones said of the Virginia loss that “Glenn Youngkin represents the delta variant of Trumpism,”) then why would anyone vote for them?

The Dems need the equivalent of drinking clear soup for a few days, now that McAuliffe is out. Or they can eat another couple of Clintonite chili dogs at the first sign of feeling better and get sick all over again.

Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.



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